Joyce Kessler said her husband, Gerald, struggled for many years following his first heart attack in 1985, but somehow he managed to put his last crop out in September.
“I helped him into the combine, and he harvested last year,” she said, “and him and me sowed that wheat over 400 acres.”
Even with his heart working at only 10 percent, Joyce said he finished planting.
“Nobody knew how he did it—the doctors said it was unreal—but he couldn’t make it anymore (after planting the wheat),” she said.
Nine months later, Gerald succumbed to heart failure and was unable to see his harvest from the wheat he had planted.
“I hadn’t even thought about harvest,” Joyce said. “He was so sick and I was with him day after day and night. I had no idea what I was going to do.”
Then two family friends, George Schutte and Jim Enns, stepped up.
“The Lehigh boys took care of it for me,” she said.
True to their word, farmers in Lehigh Township arrived in the Kessler fields at 9:30 a.m. and in less than 12 hours had harvested a little more than 400 acres.
According to Joyce, nine combines, four semi trucks and too many grain carts and work trucks to count brought in the wheat.
“It was just amazing to see,” she said. “Gerald is smiling from above because he knew I would keep everybody in order. I just love people.”
In addition to the seasoned farmers, Joyce said her brother-in-law, Bryce York of Kansas City, asked if he could help by using Gerald’s old combine.
“Bryce took the combine out of the shed and he was going to get it running,” she said.
Joyce said the old combine was ready for the junk man, but “purred like a kitten” after York fixed it.
“God just gave that old combine strength,” she said. “It was a good combine and I can’t believe how many acres Bryce cut with it.”
Bryce said he always wanted to harvest and was happy to cut the wheat that was laying down because of weather.
“The big farmers don’t want to mess with (hail damaged) stuff, but Bryce could putz around in there,” she said.
A lifetime of farming
With Wednesday’s harvest, Joyce said their farming is over.
“This was the last year, but I won’t leave the farm (house) and the same with (son) Lynn. He won’t ever move off that Kessler farm.”
Joyce said she plans to cash rent the land, relieving her and her family of making operating and marketing decisions about it.
“I can’t believe it,” she said. “I have hauled wheat all my life to the Lehigh co-op and (those helping) let me take two loads in just to say I hauled this last load.”
At one time, she and Gerald farmed more than 1,000 acres.
“I would stand in our yard and see Gerald with (all the fields) in Lehigh Township,” she said.
Joyce believes God has been good to them, helping them to form a special bond between farmers around Lehigh.
The local farmers even made up a name for their coffee group that met at 8 a.m.—Double Circle Daycare.
The original farmhouse was built by Gerald’s grandfather in 1888.
“He was born in there, married in there and died in there,” she said.
Gerald’s father, Rudy, was the next generation to live in the house.
“(Rudy) wouldn’t put electricity upstairs,” she said. “He said it was just a fad, so no wiring was upstairs, just downstairs.”
When Gerald and Joyce, the third generation, moved into the house in 1958, they installed wiring so their three children could have lights, she said.
“The original house is still standing, but it has been turned into a barn and Lynn and Marie built a new house,” she said.
High school sweethearts
Joyce and Gerald were both born and raised in Lehigh, but she lived north of town and he lived east.
“We lived in the Waldeck area in Lehigh Township, and everybody knew my dad, Ike Thiessen,” she said.
When Joyce and her four siblings were growing up, their dad had just one word for them: “Watch.”
“We never had any rules. We knew exactly when to come in at night and we knew exactly what we were supposed to do—go by example, and that’s how I grew up.”
The couple were married in 1958; Gerald died five days short of their 55th anniversary.
She said Gerald had his first heart attack at age 48, For the next 28 years, it cost about $10,000 a year to treat his heart-related problems.
“He was such a kind, amazing man and he wouldn’t demand much,” she said. “We worked together.”
While farming, Joyce said their children—Lynn, Renay and Melanie—were close by in the family vehicle.
“They had coloring books and snacks,” Joyce said. “We would take the keys out and they were OK.”
Renay, who lives in Buhler, said she too was amazed by the outpouring of help last week.
“It was exciting and an overwhelming response from the community,” she said.
With the help of five women in the kitchen, Joyce said, they took sack lunches for everybody in the field.
“They were scattered around (in three places), but nobody stopped,” she said.
Those helping the family included: Jim and Sharon Bartel; Steve and Seth Bartel; Josh Siebert; Gary Duerksen; Jim Enns; Corrina and Darren Enns; Kyle Klassen; Tanya Klassen; Paul, Gerald and Joanna Klassen; Sid Wasemiller; Rod Bolstad; Jordan Bolstad; Bryce York; Chad Ferguson; George Schutte; Landon Herbel; Rick, Mel, Kaitlin and Kolby Reed; Renay, Tara and Jesse Neufeldt; Arlene Schale; Roberta Isaac and Janet Hein.