What I Learned in Kulm


August 2000; Kulm, North Dakota

Good morning. I know I’ve met many of you, but for those of you that I haven’t yet met, my name is Glenn Yeck, and I’ve been staying with the Bill Gackle’s for the last month, helping out with the harvest. My connection to the family is through Jon, whom I met in the military while serving in California back in 1994. We completed a six-month cruise together in the Western Pacific, getting to know each other through our own version of military fellowship, which usually involved pizza and ice cream floats in the ship’s galley at about one in the morning. I got to meet Dave back then, too, when he joined Jon on the last leg of the 6-month deployment, riding the ship from Hawaii to San Diego during what we call Tiger Cruise.

I came up here from Miami, driving what will be about 7,000 miles round trip, because I wanted to learn about life on a family farm. I believe farming is part of the great American heritage, and I wanted to experience a little bit of what it’s like before family farms disappear beneath the increasing pressure of corporatization. I consider farming to be one of the noblest of professions, one that was acknowledged as such by the progenitors of Western civilization, the ancient Greeks, and one that seems only to have diminished in society’s estimation since then, through no fault of farmers. I wanted to see why this was happening, understand the farmers’ problems, know why they were satisfied or disgruntled with government policies, and be able to discuss such issues with farmers I’d met and will meet.

In the last four weeks, though, I’ve realized that my journey has taken me even further than I’d anticipated. Not only did I get to see some new cities and old friends along the way here, but I got to know an old town and many new friends in Kulm. Marilyn and Bill welcomed me into their home like a fifth child, and Dave and Bill took me under their wings like another brother. The extended Bill Gackle family not only welcomed me onto their farms and into their houses, but often functioned as mentors for my life, when not by words then by deeds, in their earnest convictions, or sometimes in meek manners often belying a faith rarely seen in today’s world. I’ve enjoyed Sunday school with Bill, who by example has shown me that you’re never too old for some good scripture reflection. I’ve treasured talking to Dave, Fred, and Jordan about teaching and coaching, our faiths, personal struggles, and the challenge of understanding God’s mysteries, discussions which reinforced for each of us that we don’t have all the answers, and that we’d leave no room for faith if we did. Indeed, I’m glad I learned where the cereal in my bowl comes from, since that’s what I came here for. But as I spent time in Kulm learning about the cycle of life of small grain, I also learned something about the cycle of life manifested by humankind.

As I’ve read about the European farmers’ endeavor to find fulfillment in life, be it in Germany, Prussia, Bessarabia, or the New World, I’ve gotten to know as much about the German/Russian ancestry of my new friends as I know about my own Dutch-Italian ancestry. I think it’s interesting that when my dad declined Naval orders to Stuttgart, Germany years ago, it was considered “homesteading”, while it was a such homesteading that led some of your German ancestors to come to the United States generations ago. I’ve also realize that one of the many reasons your ancestors left Germany, Prussia, and Russia was to avoid having their young sons drafted into armies of miserable living conditions, and I appreciate all the more the armed forces of this country.

I’ve enjoyed working the land, outside, in an office with sky-high ceilings and horizon-to-horizon carpeting; liked the warm sunny days, cool shade, and refreshing nights. I’ve relished looking for shooting stars on clear nights, appreciating the wide-open spaces and relative darkness here that allow me to do so. I’ve realized that a weather forecast of sunny and hot could mean a good chance of showers, and that a showers forecast could mean record breaking heat. I think it’s funny that you all think it’s hot and humid here in the summer.

I’ve learned that while things may move a bit slower in a small town, somehow things can get done just as fast. For instance, the folks at the bank didn’t know me when I went in there for a cashier’s check and a notary stamp, but they went out of their way to help me and I was out of there faster than I would’ve been from a Miami bank. When my windshield got a ding in it near Jamestown, Susan Ritzanoya found a windshield repairman with one phone call, and I drove away with a repaired windshield 45 minutes later. It may have taken days just to get an appointment in Miami.

I’ve cherished being part of a community where doors aren’t locked, keys are left in cars, and where people wave and say good morning. There seems to be no fear here, partly because it’s such a small community, but perhaps largely because people are secure in who they are, in their identity and relationship with each other and in the Lord. I love how everyone is so down to earth here, unassuming. It’s such a breath of fresh air from large cities, where sometimes manners can be presumptuous and the air’s more put on.

I’ve learned why farmers are working so hard to feed a population that scarcely recognizes their sacrifices. I’ve learned about the risks and challenges of farming, and witnessed farmers conviction that what they’re doing is honorable. I visited Victor and Terry Mathern’s dairy farm, and again realized how hard some people are working in this world, struggling against corporate competition, to provide for their families.

My parents always told me to count my blessings. Among those I count are that I live in this country, and that there are dedicated farmers out there, working the land, day in and day out, because they understand the intrinsic value of work and of contributing to society. As a man who oft-times struggles with his own faith, it’s been comforting for me to be around people so steadfast in their convictions. I’ve been fortunate to see a good part of the globe, and I know the world at large is a better place because of people like the ones in Kulm, a town that may not have much in the way of restaurants, bars, theater, pro sports events, concert halls, museums, or zoos, but one where people have each other, church and picnics in the park, and Bible study around a campfire. All are so clearly founded on a solid faith in the Lord, and I’m not sure there’s anything else a community could want, for that is, by and large, what community is all about. Personally, I think you’re all heroes here simply because you put up with the mosquitoes here, let alone the fact that you’re feeding the country. This town is indeed filled with the spirit of fellowship, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it. Thank you for your kindness and hospitality. I wish you and America a prosperous harvest.

Written by Glenn Yeck | Comments Off on What I Learned in Kulm