Last Thursday, millions of Americans celebrated the luck of the Irish with the wearin’ of the green. But there was another holiday on the same calendar, one with a local connection: National Farm Rescuers Day!
A former-student-now-Facebook-friend posted about this farm-related day of recognition. Graham grad Becca Staudter-Holbrook shared that four John Deere employees had helped a family in North Dakota with spring planting. The group of office guys – as they referred to themselves – consisted of Matt Blaylock, Chris Davison, Jeff Barnes, and Chris Batdorf.
Wait, Chris Batdorf? My brain, which recently turned 74, finally remembered Chris was indeed a GHS alum, one of Becca’s classmates. Rounding out my recollections: I vaguely visualized this freshman/sophomore kid in my classroom wearing an FFA jacket and the rambling farmhouse where he lived near Kiser Lake. I just had to call – and what a conversation we had.
We established his year of graduation as 1992, a gulp-worthy thirty years ago for anyone counting. Chris singled out vo-ag teacher Cliff Baughman as particularly influential during those formative years and described his further schooling, including a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio Northern University and an eventual MBA.
Seventeen years ago Chris joined John Deere where his passion for ag has helped him to move within the company and geographically. Three years ago he and his family found themselves in Bettendorf, Iowa, at corporate headquarters, where he and his team are responsible for updating global websites used as marketing tools.
Chris and his wife Wendy, a psychologist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, have two daughters: 8th grader Vella and 5th grader Vienna. The Batdorf Family is at its happiest outdoors, hiking in Tennessee and Vermont.
Last spring, the John Deere foursome became aware of Farm Rescue, a North Dakota-based organization founded in 2017 by local-farm-kid-turned-pilot Bill Gross, and its mission focusing on small farms and ranches: “When crisis strikes in the form of illness, injury, or natural disaster, Farm Rescuers throughout the heartland get the jobs done. Whether seeds need planting, hay needs baling, or crops need harvesting, these men and women labor in the fields and feed the souls of the farm family when times take a turn for the worse.”
So, they headed for the farm of Jim McFadgen, whose son Garrett had suffered a serious spinal injury and was practically unable to move, let alone plant soybeans. When the armada of John Deere equipment rolled in with the Farm Rescue flag flying, “the cavalry had arrived.”
The group from John Deere, who quartered in a nearby Airbnb hunting lodge, was a decided departure from the usual Farm Rescue groups deployed. Retired farmers typically travel to the 700 farms already helped, stay as long as their services are needed, and seldom meet with the families involved.
The John Deere guys, however, were on a tight schedule to finish planting in the week they were away from their offices. And they interacted regularly with family members, especially Garrett, for whom their presence seemed particularly healing.
Chris shared some highlights from the week. The McFadgens own a sixth-generation family farm, loyal to the Case brand of red tractors and other farm equipment. The green-and-yellow convoy was welcomed, of course – but what a jarring visual experience!
Their busy agenda kept them moving when otherwise they might have packed it in. Chris had about 200 feet of planting to finish when a storm threatened – and the planter turned up empty. Solution: five-gallon buckets filled by hand and run out to the planter. Mission accomplished!
Probably the most memorable experiences stemmed from the city slicker status of two group members. Oh, the lessons instilled from one of the most multifaceted occupations ever invented. Fortunately, Chris’ growing-up years on his small family farm in Champaign County stood him in good stead and were of immeasurable help to the quartet as they completed their objectives in the time allotted.
A YouTube video produced by John Deere detailed their week with the McFadgen Family. Chris himself made a most valuable comment on that video as he explained how the experience had changed each of them. These guys did not trek to North Dakota for recognition; that is simply not in their nature. They went to help – and in doing so – learned about themselves and their abilities, developed special friendships with family members, realized what it means to be able to contribute. Chris added that it all renewed his faith in humanity, what we all need more of.
Chris returns to Ohio a couple times a year. His mom still lives in the old farmhouse, and family members work in Urbana’s court system. But the John Deere gang of four is already on the schedule the third week of May to help another family in crisis – even as they continue to develop their own personal growth through service to their fellow man.
Postscript: Our delightful chat last week reminds me of my own sense of faith in humanity. My contribution was a typical one, with my class just one part of Chris’ preparation for the world at large. My last view of him was at commencement with his classmates, capped and gowned, clutching diplomas. To confirm three decades later that Chris is living a life of meaning – well, it does this old schoolmarm’s heart good to see the roots and wings of one former student’s life.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.