Seasons change: Luverne man pens ‘Musings of a Retiring Farmer’
LUVERNE — For the past year, every task Jerry Reu completed on the farm — whether it was scooping out a grain bin or fixing a piece of equipment — he’d say to himself, “Well, that’s the last time I need to do that.”
So many farmers never truly retire from a lifetime of tending soil and stock, but Reu, bit by bit, has eased himself out of the hog barn and away from the farm fields. It was a slow, steady transition that began when he sold a portion of his building site — including the hog barn — to a beginning farmer 17 years ago, and continued to this fall, when that same farmer custom-harvested the last quarter section Reu had planted.
When the crop was in, the 69-year-old Luverne man knew his days of farming were done. Will he be back next spring as a hired hand? Time will tell.
“Farmers — people in any job — can become workaholics,” Reu said. “Their whole value, their whole self-worth is in their work. You don’t just walk away from that.
“Out on the farm there is always something else to do — something more to do — and you don’t stop doing it,” he added. Retirement doesn’t mean he’s quitting. He prefers to say he’s passing the baton.
Nearly a year ago, after already making the decision to retire in 2017, Reu penned a three-and-a-half page essay of musings from a career spent in farming.
The words came to him early one Sunday morning in mid-December. He’d awoken at 4 a.m., sat down at the keyboard and tapped them out. Later that day, he dropped the pages off at his daughter Amanda’s house and asked her to read through them.
By that evening, she’d suggested the words be put into book form. By around midnight, she’d emailed him the pages she created through an online book publishing program.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Reu said.
His daughter, experienced in graphic design, had created page layouts that emphasized exactly the right words, he added.
By the next morning, Reu wrote a short biography to include in the project, and a rush order was placed to have the books in hand before Christmas. It would be a surprise for everyone — including Reu’s wife, Renae.
The books arrived on Dec. 23 — the same day the Reus were celebrating Christmas as a family. Jerry handed gift-wrapped hardcover versions to his wife and four children, and paperback versions to each of the eight grandchildren.
“It was the most exhilarating moment of my life — just watching their expressions,” Reu said as he grew a bit misty-eyed. The two 9-year-old grandkids took turns reading the book page by page as the rest of the family followed along.
In addition to the copies made for family, Reu had printed extras to give to those who had worked with him on the farm over the years. It was through their encouragement that Reu printed additional copies and decided to offer the books for sale.
For him, the book leaves a legacy for his family — and a lesson for others.
“It’s a way for people to recognize the idea of not doing something they did before,” he said. “You did this to transition it onto someone else. It gives grace to the idea of leaving your job and not just dumping it.”
Reu said writing about his career in farming was an “emotional release after a lifetime responsibility of stressing over the crops, over this, over that.”
Five generations had called the farm home, starting when Reu’s grandfather bought the land along the Beaver Creek in 1939. In August, the family auctioned off their farm equipment and, later in the month, hosted a retirement party in the machine shed. It was the end of an era.
Reu’s three daughters are all married to non-farmers, and his son is a Minnesota state trooper in the Lonsdale area. With the current farm economy, Reu said his son could make more money in law enforcement.
The equipment auction was harder for some of his kids than it was for him.
“It was just stuff,” he said. “I could let go of it.”
Things change — seasons change, and this was one of those times. Reu has carried a sticky note inside the case for his glasses saying just that — seasons change.
“There are seasons of joy, seasons of sadness, seasons of celebration and toils,” he said. “If a season is going good for you, enjoy it because it’s going to change.
“I think there’s a disconnect between people that grow up within the city limits — they don’t know what happens out in the country — they don’t know how the four seasons affect us….” he added.
Copies of Reu’s book, “Musings of a Retiring Farmer,” are available for purchase at The History Center, the Brandenburg Gallery and Those Blasted Things in Luverne, the Agriculture Heritage Museum at South Dakota State University and online through Amazon. Rue has also donated copies to both the Rock County Library in Luverne and the Nobles County Library in Worthington. They can be checked out through the Plum Creek Library System.