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December 17, 2018
Travis Wenning was all farm boy. He was in the combine with his dad, Nick, as soon as Nick would let him ride. What Nick didn’t know was how much Travis absorbed watching him harvest and plant. As Nick used the yield monitor and programmed autosteer and other functions, Travis soaked it in.
What Nick and his wife, Julie, an emergency medical technician at a local fire department, also didn’t know was that Travis only had a limited amount of time to pack in all he wanted to learn and do for agriculture. Travis was diagnosed with cancer in November 2017.
Soon after, trips from Greensburg, Ind., to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis started. “We can’t say enough good things about the people at Riley,” Nick says. “They gave Travis all the care we could ask for. In return, Travis gave them lessons about farming. He never knew a stranger, not even when he was sick. He loved to talk about farming.”
The Wennings have no-tilled for many years. Travis’ grandpa, Roger Wenning, was a pioneer in using cover crops and has held numerous field days on his farm, inviting speakers from all over the country and digging soil pits so experts could dig for roots. If he thought it would help someone else catch no-till fever, Roger did it.
“Many people got used to seeing Travis tag along at my side,” Roger notes. “We often held morning sessions of field days in the shop, and he would be up bopping around by the speakers, seeing what he could learn.”
Roger and his wife, Mary Beth, recall one evening when he was disking a garden. Roger relates Travis’ reaction: “‘Grandpa, why are you disking?’ Travis asked. ‘We don’t disk — we no-till!’
“He understood what conservation was about, and he wanted to make sure other people understood it too,” Roger says.
Nick adds, “Our Massey Ferguson 8670 was ‘his tractor.’ Even to the end, if Dad or I would say we were going to get the Massey Ferguson, he would remind us that it was his tractor. He really loved John Deere too, but he had a special attraction for that tractor.”
One day in late winter 2017, the doctors couldn’t find any more cancer. They declared Travis cancer-free. Roger recalls the moment. Just a few hours after Nick got the word to come bring Julie and Travis home, Roger got a call that a terminally ill brother-in-law had died. He knew in his heart that his brother-in-law had hung on until they got good news about Travis. Later that evening, Nick brought his family home. Nick and Julie also have Henry, 5, and Josie, 9.
The jubilation was short-lived. Within a few weeks, the doctors discovered cancer again. This time it would take its toll. By midsummer, it was obvious that Travis might not win the battle.
“That didn’t stop him from being as positive,” Nick recalls. “One Sunday afternoon, he wanted to go for a tractor ride. We took the Massey and just drove. Another time he wanted to go look for toy tractors. He had some money saved up. We started out at some local dealerships. He didn’t spend much money, yet he came home with loads of tractors. Everyone was so generous.”
The Wennings stepped up from a six-row, twin-row Great Plains planter to a 12-row, twin-row machine this past year. They spent all winter getting it ready, but they didn’t use it much themselves. A neighbor hooked on and did a good share of the planting.
“It was like that all summer,” Roger says. “People wanted to help. I had hay down one evening, wondering if I would get it baled before it rained. By the time I got there, people were baling with their own equipment, making bales, wrapping bales, doing what needed to be done without ever being asked.”
It was obvious Travis touched lots of people with his upbeat attitude despite his illness, and his love for agriculture. “Our little guy touched a lot of people in a lot of places,” Nick says.
The end came on Sept. 12. Hundreds of people poured in to pay their respects. His beloved Massey Ferguson carried Travis to his final resting place, but a John Deere was parked outside the funeral home, just in case the Massey needed help.
“Our local dealer, Koenig’s, brought the tractor and parked it — we never even asked them to,” Nick says.
Roger and family returned home to see a rainbow after the funeral. It helped start the healing process, which will stretch on for some time.
“It was a different year,” Nick says, after finally answering a few questions about crop production practices in 2018.
“The thing I learned most from 2018 was to help your neighbors whenever you can. You never know when you’ll be the one that needs help.”
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