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When someone dies, their absence creates both a gaping hole and an opportunity to fill it. Here's a look at how the next generation grapples with that very situation.

Holly Spangler, Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer

May 1, 2019

2 Min Read


Editor’s note: we’re sharing the story of the Chatterton family this week, who were gracious in revealing their story of loss, grief and rebuilding, following Greg Chatterton’s death in 2012.

In any business, farm or otherwise, one individual’s absence likely creates opportunities for someone else.

For the Chattertons, those opportunities emerged for Greg’s daughter, Erin, and nephew Jason, on their Ellisville farm. Jason works full-time for the farm now, making most of the farming decisions. Erin works part-time and is gearing up to manage their Precision Planting dealership. Greg’s brother and partner, Brett, manages the trucking business and overall operations.


PARTNERS: Jason Chatterton typically runs the combine but here, Erin (Chatterton) Featherlin gets to take it for a spin. The pair are technically cousins but in working together every day – and grieving together – they’ve become more like siblings.

“It makes you sad and it’s awkward but it’s the opportunity that came about because of Greg’s death. It just is and it’s reality. There’s no way to reconcile it or say it’s ok,” Brett says.

Erin was a homemaker with a four young children (including a seven-week-old newborn) when her dad died in a single-car accident on a snowy winter morning, on his way to a Precision Planting meeting. Within days after the funeral, they loaded up paperwork, brought it to her house and dove in.

“It was very heartbreaking but it was very exciting, too,” Erin describes. “So I struggled with that emotion for quite a while. I’ve always loved to play business; I’ve always loved to drive tractors. And I was finally getting my opportunity.”

Today, Erin’s grateful for the opportunity to help farm and still be home with her kids whenever she needs to. Jason’s grateful they could talk candidly and openly about what everyone wanted.


REMEMBER: The family had this decal put on the side of their combine.

Brett knows it’s been awkward and uncomfortable at times. “Yet when you tie faith into it and your confidence in a greater plan than what we have – confidence of where Greg is, confidence in knowing my father’s goals for our families and Greg’s goals for our families – it give you a peace in knowing we’ve got these opportunities for other family members to be involved in much more active ways. That blesses them and we’re just continuing the family legacy.”

For more:           

Chatterton Family: A sudden succession

Chatterton Family: A corn field conversation

Chatterton Family: Protecting the hurting

Chatterton Family: Opportunity, and other strange words

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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