The modern era of the Master Farmer program turned 50 this year, and Carl Eiche received the 2018 Honorary Master Farmer award. In my book, nothing could be more fitting. Carl helped restart the Master Farmer program as an editor with Prairie Farmer in 1968 and was involved with the program every year since — until this year.
Seeing Carl receive the Honorary Master Farmer award was special for me because he was one of my mentors. When I left ag teaching to become a field editor for Indiana Prairie Farmer in 1981, Carl had already been a farm magazine editor for nearly three decades. He had written for Prairie Farmer and then Indiana Prairie Farmer since moving to Frankfort, Ind., in 1959.
I had four years of teaching experience, but I was wet behind the ears when it came to interviewing farmers and writing stories. And I was so self-conscious about taking photos that I enrolled in a basic photography course at a local photo shop.
I looked up to Carl, whether he knew it or not. After all, he was “Indiana Ike,” and his picture was in the magazine that came to my parents’ home on the farm every month. His picture was also on display at the big tent Indiana Prairie Farmer maintained in those days at the Indiana State Fair.
When Carl asked me to come along for an interview on a farm so I could see how he did it I was thrilled. We met at a cattle farm in Boone County, Ind. Carl and the farmer chatted for a while and we looked at the farmer’s cattle. Then, Carl pulled out his tape recorder and got down to business. He asked specific questions — some he had asked before — so he could get the answers on tape and then listen to them later before he wrote the story.
He had graciously invited me to dinner at his home that evening, so I followed him to Frankfort, Ind. His wife, Harriet, had prepared hamburgers with all the fixings. Carl says he doesn’t remember supper, but I certainly do. I left Frankfort that evening with more than a full stomach and some tips on doing interviews. I had made two new friends and found someone I could look up to as I got used to doing my new job — Indiana Ike.
Carl didn’t earn a journalism degree, and I didn’t, either. We both ended up writing for and about farmers because it was something we enjoyed doing. We did things our own ways — I soon learned tape-recording interviews didn’t work for me. I interviewed Dan Arnholt, Columbus, Ind., outside his grain bin one gray evening in November. When I went to listen to the tape the next day, all I had was the hum of aeration fans. I decided taking notes was more my style.
Carl made many friends and helped educate lots of people during his long career. He also mentored several would-be writers — including me. He may not have realized it, but he helped kick-start my career. I will be forever grateful. It was truly an honor to see him receive the Honorary Master Farmer award.