By Jeremy C. Nagel
I was saddened this week to learn our Farm Bureau family in Osceola County suffered a one-two gut punch in recent months.
Last November saw the unexpected passing of longtime Osceola County member Jerry Stein. In the wake of his loss, the remaining members of his Up & Doing Community Group have chosen to disband, reduced to just four members and not having met in some time.
Our hearts go out to those four: Sue Gerber, Duane Whitman, Pam Prichard and Jerry’s wife of 61 years, Eva Stein.
Eva and Jerry attended a lot of Farm Bureau events together, always with warm, beaming smiles. Finding a photo of them side by side and smiling wasn’t hard. I took several of those photos myself over the years, but it wasn’t until Osceola’s 2017 annual meeting that I recall having a direct conversation with Jerry.
I found him particularly easy to converse with, and he welcomed me to join one of his upcoming community group meetings. My calendar cooperated that December, and on a bright, snowy afternoon I pulled up to their home just north of Evart.
What I remember most dearly about that afternoon’s conversations with the Up & Doing group, was the intimate familiarity everyone demonstrated with the land itself — a depth of knowledge and understanding that transcended mere townships and section-line roads.
At one point there was a vague, fleeting allusion to how one specific field fell off by a bend in a road over past so-n-so’s place. Not only did everyone around Jerry and Eva’s table know exactly what field they were talking about, they chuckled as one about how notoriously tricky it was to work because of the slope and character of the ground there.
At that moment it struck me that there's nobody on God’s Green Earth who knows — who really understands the land as thoroughly and intimately as farmers. That may strike every farmer reading this as absurdly obvious, but for a homesick geographer longing for a deeper connection with every landscape that greets his eye, it was a warm, comforting revelation. It made that afternoon with the Up & Doing crew not just enjoyable, but meaningful — so much so that it immediately informed the following month’s CAG discussion topic.
I held Jerry in high esteem partly because I found his company so comfortable, so familiar, almost as if we were old friends on the same wavelength instead of new acquaintances. Reading Jerry’s obituary brought back some of that same familiarity. It’s full of place names — Orchard Hill, Cherry Grove, Forest Hill — places the locals know but which don’t turn up on maps.
Jerry was a teacher, he sold encyclopedias and “valued his tools.” He was the family historian, a reader, a writer… And above all, through and beside all the above, he was always and of course, a farmer.
P.S.: For some time now our discussion topic questions have included the option of sharing 500 words about your favorite field. That idea was sparked by my afternoon with Jerry Stein’s Up & Doing group. No takers yet, but whenever those first field notes happen, I know they’ll echo Jerry’s love of the land.