Andy Stevens is hoping mad about the health care bill. I can hear him now. “Big government give away,” he says just as he has said it many times before. “When will those people learn? It’s the tax payers’ money not theirs.”
We won’t get to hear Andy rave about things like big government spending anymore. We won’t get to hear his tales of feeding cows at the farm in Delaware. We won’t get to read his words in the American Small Farm. The former editor of The Ohio Farmer and recent inductee into the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame passed away in the early morning of March 24. The editor who entitled his OF column “Straight Talk from Andy” will not get to shoot from the hip again.
Marti Smith, his business partner in the magazine “American Small Farm,” called to tell me the news this morning. Anyone who knows Marti, a former sale rep for Farm Progress, knows she is about fun and joy and laughter, but recently we have talked mostly about Andy and his failing health. She confided that she has known more about his painful year of battling an over sized tumor on his bladder than she has let on. Surgery to remove the tumor and the bladder in January had been successful, but Andy had taken a turn for the worse this week.
Marti asked me to write a piece about Andy for the April issue of ASF and I was happy to agree.
In my mind and memories Andy is still full of life. I recall the 40ish suit-and-tie-clad editor who practiced punting a football because he was sure he had one more shot at making the NFL as a punter. “I’ve got pretty good hang time and I’m getting it out there 35 or 40 yards,” Andy would say as if he really believed he could be a punter.
I recall sitting at his desk with the stacks of boxes surrounding it, like a ship that was under siege from little pirate boats. The attackers were filled with papers -- mail and releases any one of which might hold the key to his next editorial. Along the window the planters were filled with young tomato plants. “How can you grow the first one, if you don’t get started early,” he would say.
I recall writing a long “humorous” piece mocking the television advertising approaches of the various companies that were our bread and butter. Andy was a guy who liked to laugh and encouraged humorous articles, but in this case he bluntly told me it was not something that we were likely to run.
Other wise, Andy’s management style was pretty relaxed especially given the fact that in 1980s the publication had a big and very young staff. Whether it was choosing cover photos, deciding what beats we wanted to cover or planning the annual Christmas party, Andy gave us full reign. It was under this freedom that the staff in 1983 wrote “the Storm Lingers” which won the DeKalb Oscar in Agriculture for team category. About a year later Andy and Larry Vance came up with a plan to salute conservation farmers which I have been proud to continue in the publication.
Andy’s scope of knowledge of agriculture was truly amazing.
Raised on the family’s Ayrshire dairy farm near Delaware, Ohio, he participated in FFA and 4-H. He continued to raise and show cattle for the rest of his life and served as president of the Ohio Ayrshire Breeders Association as recently as a few years ago.
After getting a BS in agricultural education in 1958, he got an MS in the subject in 1963. During those years he taught vocational education. His love for FFA continued throughout his life as he served as president of both the FFA Foundation and the FFA Alumni Association.
Over the years Andy took on part-time jobs to add income and fill in the time. He worked as a crop inspector for the Ohio Seed Improvement Association. He was an instructor for the Farm Business Planning Association, helping farmers computerize their record books. He was the association director for the Ohio Fair Board, which provides help to county fair managers.
His farmer heart always came out in the spring when he would start his tomatoes in the office. Andy had long nursed a dream of starting a publication directed at small and hobby farms. He tried to get the leaders of Harvest Publishing to undertake the project, but did not get much interest.
When Farm Progress bought the Harvest Group and Ohio farmer in 1991 Andy was let go. While many would view losing a job of 28 years as a devastating blow, Andy took it as an opportunity to follow his dream. In 1992 he co-founded the American Small Farm magazine. He and Marti would later buy out the other co-founder and the magazine continues to flourish.
In his long career Andy was recognized by conservation organizations, farm organizations, small farm educators and of course the Ohio Ag Council with induction in the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2009. He was inducted in the Ohio State Fair Hall of Fame the year before that.
Andy wasn’t really my first boss. I had lots of them before him, but Andy was the first person to hire me for the job I wanted to make my career. He gave me a chance and he gave many young journalists a chance. He was a fair person who claimed to be “quiet, shy and bashful,” but he loved to laugh and root for the Buckeyes and he loved to know that the words he wrote were helpful to farmers of all shapes and sizes. He never lost touch with his roots on the farm and his words will be missed most by those who nurture the soil.
Andy, thanks for your many contributions to Ohio agriculture.