Neighbors and farmers bring in the harvest
PENNOCK -- For 50 years Norman Rohner has planted crops in the spring and harvested them in the fall.
This year the 65-year-old farmer planted corn and soybeans on his farm in rural Pennock, but it was friends and neighbors who brought in the harvest.
"Everybody was there with open arms," said Howard Noor, one of the dozens of volunteers who donated time and farm equipment to harvest Rohner's crops.
"Everybody was just willing to help and wanted to help a good guy out," said Noor.
Rohner, who is fighting two brain tumors, was too ill from the radiation and chemotherapy treatments to get in the field this fall.
So, during two Sundays in November, farmers converged on Rohner's farm with six or seven combines, seven or eight semis and tractors, grain carts and a desire to help out a man who had always helped others.
On Nov. 8, the volunteers harvested 110 acres of soybeans in about 4½ hours.
On Nov. 29, they returned to harvest 120 acres of corn in about the same amount of time.
The elevators in Kerkhoven and Murdock stayed open on Sunday to take the wet corn harvested from Rohner's field.
At the end of both days, Dooley's Petroleum came and fueled up the combines at no charge while the volunteers gathered in Rohner's house for a hearty meal served by Rohner's wife, Linda, and their four daughters.
While sitting around the kitchen table Friday morning, Linda Rohner said those two days in November were wonderful and sad.
Her husband was pleased that the crops he'd worked so hard to plant were being harvested, but he was heartbroken that he wasn't able to do it himself.
"He was very sad that day," said daughter Pam Rohner Swart. "He kept saying 'that's my work.'"
"I think he still felt bad he couldn't take it out himself," said Donavon Johnson, a good friend who said he and Rohner are "closer than brothers."
The two have gone to auction sales together for nearly 35 years, he said. Being there to help get his friend's harvest out was only natural.
But being on the receiving end of all that goodwill wasn't easy for her husband, said Linda Rohner.
Norman has always been the one to stop doing his own work in order to help others, she said, adding that it was "unbelievable" the way people showed up to help.
Rohner was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2007, but it remained stable until March of this year. He began treatment in April and "things looked good" during a check in July, said Linda Rohner. But less than a month later, the tumor had tripled in size, triggering another round of treatments.
Drafted in the mid-1960s, Rohner is a Vietnam veteran who was in a regiment that was one of the first to move into deforested areas that had been sprayed with Agent Orange.
Other soldiers with similar experiences have also been diagnosed with cancer, said Linda Rohner, who suspects Agent Orange may be to blame for her husband's tumors.
But because optimism is required for being a farmer, Rohner is naturally optimistic about beating his disease, she said.
Although the grueling treatment has taken its toll on the lifelong farmer, he was able to ride a couple rounds in the combine during the corn harvest, said Linda Rohner.
And, of course, he's still planning on planting another crop again next spring.