Matt Schafer came down off the trailer after being interviewed with his father and uncle at the Indiana Farm Management Tour last week and looked my direction. The Schafer’s farm near LaCrosse in LaPorte County. Matt seemed to be looking my direction. I always like to find the hosts after they’ve been interviewed, and snap a picture for later use. But Matt seemed to know who I was. I didn’t know him.
Later, as I was leaving, I bumped into him again, after I already had my picture. Then he said something that connected the dots. “My friend Joe Kelsay says you used to be his 4-H leader - is that right?” he asked. As a matter of fact, I was, along with my wife, Carla. That seems like a different lifetime ago. Joe was barely past 10, and we hosted the club in our home each month before the 4-H fair. He and his brother, Russ, were regular attenders. Today Joe is in his 30’s. The former Indiana State FFA officer manages the 500 cow dairy near Whiteland, some three hours form LaPorte. He farms with Russ and their dad, Merrill.
“So how do you know Joe,” I asked Matt. Turned out they were buddies in college. Both attended Purdue University.
That wasn’t the only unusual connection I made on that trip. At one of the stops, I walked up to a mini-tour already in progress. Everyone was gathered around the mint distillery equipment on the Wappel farm in Starke County. An energetic young farmer wearing a baseball -type farmer’s hat spoke to me as soon as I walked up. He was very friendly- but I just couldn’t place the name. I knew the face - I had seen him before.
You can get by acting like you remember someone if all you do is see them in passing, or if an event is in progress and you’re supposed to be listening, not talking, as was the case here. But when they’re in your car, you just have to ask!
Near the end of the tour, I indicated to Alan Miller, Purdue University ag economist and farm management tour coordinator, I was looking for directions so I could head on to the next stop.
“We’re going that way,” a voice now familiar once again said in the background. It was the farmer in the baseball cap. Someone a bit younger was with him. “Why don’t you just follow us?”
“Sure," I said. I don’t have to remember his name to follow him I thought, and maybe he will still think I know who he was. That worked great until he decides that he ought to ride with me. He throws his companion the keys to the truck, and instructs him that he’ll just ride with me.
Now what? A farmer who knows me but whom I can’t name is now sitting in my car beside me. What if he says something cool I want to quote- I’ll have to ask him his name. Fortunately, he solved the situation by saying, “You don’t remember me, do you?” I mumbled something about getting old and forgetting names.
Turns out he was Jeff Mentzer, a past winner, along with his wife, of the American Farm Bureau Young Farmer award. A free truck came along with it, and it was the pickup I was now following. About three years ago, I had visited to get a picture of him, his wife and kids near their farm shop for a story one of our other guys wrote. Quick encounters don’t always leave me with a good record of names.
Turns out he does have cool stuff to talk about. He shares a sprayer with the Schafers. Just don’t ask me his wife’s name! I’m still working on it.