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Sandy and Jerry Nelson farm near Fairfield in Jefferson County
THE NELSONS: Sandy and Jerry Nelson farm near Fairfield in Jefferson County.

She keeps books, cooks and contributes to community

Sandy Nelson is equally comfortable driving a tractor, participating on a committee or cooking for family.

There isn’t much Sandy Nelson hasn’t done on her family’s Century Farm in Jefferson County. Sandy raked and baled hay, and cultivated corn as a teenager on land that was first farmed in 1875 by her great-great-grandfather, Pacific Bruey. Now, as a grandmother of 12, she handles a four-wheel-drive John Deere tractor for fieldwork, runs the grain cart, keeps the books for multiple operations, and regularly cooks big meals for family gatherings.

Over the years, Sandy ran the combine in the fall; she still hauls anhydrous tanks from field to field and moves equipment from farm to farm, covering 3,000 acres she and her husband, Jerry, operate with son-in-law Brent Hoskins. She’s trying to cut back on fieldwork now, but she’s still the go-to person who runs for parts and gets meals to the field.

For a time, Sandy ran the farm by herself, raising three small children — Amy, Mindy and Richard — after her first husband, Paul Teeter, was killed in a highway crash. She married Jerry Nelson in 1983, and the family grew with Jerry’s two daughters, Jolene and Julie. Jerry and Sandy acquired more land over time and raised hogs together for more than 30 years.

Talking with Hope

Despite all the farm work, the 2019 Master Farm Homemaker’s priority has been her children and grandchildren — especially their education. Sandy was in 4-H as a young girl, and served as a 4-H leader for 12 years and a Girl Scouts leader for eight years.

“I think 4-H was my favorite,” she says of her community volunteering. “In the early years, I helped kids with their horses. I’ve always had horses.”

Over the years, Sandy showed horses and broke them to ride and to lead. It wasn’t all good — when she was about 30, one of the horses she was working with kicked her in the face. “There was a lot of blood. I lost some teeth and got a lot of stitches,” she says. “But there were many more good times than bad, like winning the pleasure class at the American Royal Horse Show in Kansas City.”

“My first horse was a pony named Cricket. I broke her myself and showed her in horse shows when I was a young girl. She lived to be 22; I could always talk to her. I don’t ride anymore, but I still talk to Hope, the horse I have now.”

Sandy Nelson kneels beside s a concrete pig in her front yard decorated for the Fourth of July
PIG PROMOTER: Sandy Nelson decorates a concrete pig in her front yard for every holiday. A pork producer for years, Sandy helped start the first sow cooperative in Jefferson County, was one of the women who started the county Porkettes and is still involved with the Iowa Pork Producers.

Sandy’s rule of “homework before chores or fun” and other educational encouragement had a positive effect; all her children have college degrees. She continued that commitment with grandchildren; whenever they visited as youngsters, she read books to them. Her “family first” culture includes hosting dinner for the three children and their families who live in the Fairfield area nearly every Sunday. All are involved in ag, so farming is the topic of discussion.

She also hosts birthday parties for the grandchildren and a Christmas dinner for cousins that brings 40 to 50 family members to the house each Christmas.

Couldn’t say no

Sandy laughs when she explains how she got so involved in community service that began years ago. “I worked at Parsons College before our first daughter, Amy, was born, and at the same time was working on the farm. But when I quit that job and began working on the farm and raising a family, I kept getting all these calls,” Sandy says. “The callers would say, ‘Since you don’t work now, we thought you might volunteer for us.’ Here I was, helping with all the hogs, fieldwork and even a bunch of bucket calves, plus raising a family, but people thought I wasn’t busy.

“I couldn’t say no. But in the end, it was a good thing. Other people were willing to step up, too. That’s how things get done.”

Things that “get done” by Sandy and others include “Trunk or Treat,” a safe way to encourage trick-or-treating at Halloween. As many as 30 cars set up for a day, with trunks full of candy, safety books, pencils, etc., at the fairgrounds. Sandy helps coordinate the open class entries and presents activities in a one-room schoolhouse at Jefferson County Fairgrounds as part of Ag in the Classroom.

She taught Sunday school and Bible school for 10 years and was instrumental in donating and raising money to give Bethesda Methodist Church a makeover, with new siding, windows, doors and more. Sandy was a district representative for Pony Express Riders to raise money for Camp Courageous and has been a member of Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers Association for years.

Betts writes from Johnston.

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