If it’s harvest, there’s a community somewhere with a farmer in need. As sure as it’s harvest, there will be an outpouring of help from family, friends and neighbors to make sure that his amber waves of grain get turned into a crop in the bin.
As wheat harvest in Sedgwick County hit full stride the third week of June, it was Jerry Hahn’s time to learn just how much his neighbors love him. Jerry grew up farming with his father near Garden Plain. It was there that he married a neighboring farm girl, and together they raised a family on the farm.
When his neighbors Phil Klein and Mark Pauly learned this spring that Jerry had been diagnosed with stage 2 pancreatic cancer, they began organizing the event that played out on June 18 — a gathering of 20 or more people with seven to 10 combines making short work of cutting the 550 acres of wheat that comprise the 2020 wheat harvest for Jerry.
“We should get it done in one day,” said neighbor Mick Rausch, whose wife, Nancy, is a first cousin to Jerry. “With this much help and the weather good, it’ll go fast.”
The following day, June 18, Rausch said the crew finished the last 30-acre field between 9 and 10 p.m.
Jerry’s youngest daughter, Jaclyn Walker, said the outpouring of the community meant “the world” to her father.
“My dad’s not a crier,” she said. “I only saw him cry once, at my wedding. Today when everybody started bringing in combines and grain carts and trucks, he cried.”
She said the day is especially meaningful because even before his cancer diagnosis, he had already decided that this would be his last wheat harvest.
“My grandparents are in the nursing home and they made the decision to sell the land,” she said. “Dad owns the equipment and has been doing the farming, but all of the equipment is getting older and he’d have to go into debt to replace it and he didn’t want to do that. So, we made the decision that he would just sell the equipment too.”
Jaclyn said the sale had been planned for April, but the outbreak of the coronavirus caused a delay until August. Hillman Auction has the equipment auction set for Aug. 1 and the land for Aug. 15. The family will retain ownership of one parcel of land — the home farm where Jerry’s wife, Janie, grew up about 3 miles away.
“We’ve plan to keep that land and Phil Klein will farm it for us,” Janie said.
She said that Jerry had told his neighbors to finish their own fields first before coming to help him. They didn’t listen.
“I don’t think any of these guys are done with their own harvest,” she said. “But here they are, making sure our crop is in. Farmers are good people.”
Jaclyn said she knows her father would be among the first to volunteer his time and machinery to help a neighbor.
“If it was someone else in need of help, he’d do the same as these folks are doing here today,” she said. “Garden Plain is a small town. These are people he grew up with, went to school with. Their generosity means the world to him.”
Jerry has completed four rounds of chemotherapy and has two more to go before doctors reassess his condition, Shane said.
“We feel very lucky that it was caught at stage 2,” he said. “The doctors said his prognosis is pretty good because of that. Most of the time, it’s not detected until stage 4 when it’s much harder to beat. We’re optimistic that he will get well and next year, he could be one of the guys driving a combine or a grain cart to help a friend in need.”
Hats off to the helpers
Mister Rogers once explained how he learned as a child to make it through scary or difficult times.
He said his mother told him that when things are scary, you should always “look for the helpers.” Those are the people, he said, that will make you see everything is going to be OK.
For the Hahn family — Jerry, his wife, Janie, and their children, Shane, Nathan and Jaclyn — the spring has been difficult. First came a difficult decision to sell the family farmland and equipment to help Jerry’s parents, who are both in their 90s and in a nursing home.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which delayed their planned April auction. And then, a health crisis, not from the feared virus but a diagnosis of stage 2 pancreatic cancer in the midst of said pandemic.
Neighbors Mark Pauly and Phil Klein thought of a way to help the Hahn family make it through these tough times. They organized a group of people who gathered on June 18 and made a one-day job of harvesting the Hahn family’s 550 acres of wheat.
Mark Pauly said most of the group have known Jerry for years and when they heard he was sick, the logical thing to do was organize a crew to harvest for him.
“The word got out it was Jerry, and it wasn’t hard to find volunteers,” he said.
Others numbered among the helpers are these Garden Plain area farmers: Mick Rausch, Steve Rausch, Tom Rausch, Greg Rausch, Brad “Rooster” Bulter, Eugene Koester, Casey Leis, Cody Leis, Kevin Pauly, Zach Pauly, Kevin Klein, Brian Klein, Pat Koester, James Koester, Greg Weber, Bill Carpenter, Mark Beker, Eric May, Dan Klausmeyer, Zerry Zoglman, Joe Fisher and Kenny Stuhlsatz and all the “cooking crew” and Garden Plain farmers co-op, which provided cold drinks for the field.