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How do you build character? 11393How do you build character?

Amid combining corn and showing cows, our oldest thinks she may have had enough of this character building stuff. How about you?

Holly Spangler

September 29, 2016

2 Min Read

Harvest are both fully upon us now but a conversation from the state fair keeps coming to my mind.

Our family stood together near the end of the Illinois State Fair. We’d just done five weeks together as a family, alternating one week showing and one week at home, showing cattle at junior nationals, county fair and state fair. Five people in a camper. The highs and lows were many and varied. We’d finished our last show at the state fair and had another day before we could go home.

Jenna, our oldest, looked at her dad and said, “I think I’ve had enough character building.”

Amen to that, sister.


Clearly, Jenna’s picked up on some character talk at our house. Particularly in the barn, where doing hard things builds character in farm kids that soars to the highest hay mow. When the heifer won’t lead or won’t set up, or the cows get out and into the feed. When your heifer won’t breed. Or you stand last in class. When you get overlooked in showmanship. Or the vet has bad news. When the rabbit pen gets smushed. When your Bassett Hound runs off (again).

When you’re tired but you have to do it anyway.

This is the stuff of character. C.S. Lewis said it better: “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” Jenna might add that she’s pretty much ready for her extraordinary destiny.

Here in the midst of harvest, we’ve learned that wind in late June did more damage than we thought, and we watched chest-high beans shrink to waist high with SDS. And then lower. And across southern Illinois, they’ve just tried to make it through this year of alternating floods and droughts. Lots of character building down there. Not all of it very welcome, either.

But so, we go on. We do the hard stuff. We stand at the bottom of the class sometimes. We harvest the crummy crop. We learn our lessons there and build our character there.

Because the people we become when we’re at the bottom make us all the better when we get to the top.

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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