One of the neat parts of my job is to devleop relationships with people, often farmers and their families, over time. Sometimes it's through Master Farmers or interviews for tours, sometimes it's through some of the 4-H judging I do. This particular column was inspired by a trip to Franklin County a few days ago.
I had to get up in the morning, feed the ewes, get my ailing mother who lives with us out of bed, get frustrated at a road closing - all the typical things I sometimes get frustrated at in a day. Then I arrived at the fairgrounds. I've been there several times, and worked with this crew of farmers going through crops, hay, wheat, corn soybeans and tobacco projects. Yes, tobacco - you bring it to me, I'll judge it!
Gary Kerr was running check-in, doing his usual efficient job. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. He asked if I could stay for a few minutes after we were done. He wanted to show me something on the fairgrounds. Sure, was my reply. I'm always looking for interesting things. Maybe there would be a story there.
For four hours he and two other farmers put on ribbons as I directed, brought out samples so I could pick champions. When we judged the 30-plus bales of hay and I picked my grand champion overall- Gary simply said 'There's a story to that bale- I'll tell you later' with no expression on his face.
Finally we finished and it did seem a bit strange that he had a golf cart waiting to take us somewhere on the grounds. Another reporter wanted to tag along from the Connersville paper, he added. Sure, why not- I didn't care.
We pulled up in front of a beautiful, new block and stone building, which turned out to be a combination concession stand, storage and work area, plus announcers stand for the livestock arena on the inside. I noticed there was Styrofoam over one section of the wall. Maybe it was a window they didn't have in yet.
Gary walked straight for the Styrofoam and ripped it off. Then, finally, and only then, the tears flowed. The building is dedicated to his son, Kyle, killed last fall in a tragic grain suffocation accident inside a semi-trailer. Suddenly the world seemed pretty unimportant. A blue vs. a champion ribbon suddenly didn't matter. Neither did whatever the president and Congress were haggling over that day. Here was what life is all about- life, struggle, death, conquering it, emotions, friendship, community- those are the things that really matter.
I hugged Gary and met the rest of his family. Most of the building was either paid for by donations or by materials donated by a supplier. In addition, a large sum of money was being raised to establish a scholarship in Kyle Kerr's memory through the Franklin County Community Foundation.
I left that afternoon and promptly became lost for a bout 15 minutes. Normally, I would panic. That day, I didn't really care. I soaked in the countryside, stayed coherent enough to guide myself out, and reflected upon the tragedy and resulting victory I had just witnessed.
Will my daughter win ribbons at our county fair this week? Until last Friday that seemed a whole lot more important than it does today. If she learns life lessons, including caring about others and supporting others, that will be much more important than ribbons and banners to hand on the wall or stuff in the drawer.
Some things just aren't as important as other things. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragedy to drive that point home. Oh yes- the bale of hay- Kyle baled it last fall for this year's fair- his sister exhibited it in his honor. I had no clue whose it was, and Gary certainly didn't tell me at the time. It's not the ribbon that matters, but I'm sure Gary will remember the connection, and take pride in what his son continues to achieve.