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Henning, leader of Nobles County Farmers Union, dies

LISMORE -- Tim Henning, president of the Nobles County Farmers Union since September 2001, died Tuesday evening at the age of 53.

Henning, a farmer from rural Lismore who was also a past chair of the Senate District 22 DFL party, was diagnosed in July with soft tissue carcinoma, according to his CaringBridge website.

"Tim wasn't afraid to get out there and work for the rights of people," credited Ted Winter, a Fulda-area farmer and former state legislator who was a good friend of Henning. "He wanted to see public and economic policies enacted that would make a positive difference for the people who lived and worked in small towns and farms in southwestern Minnesota."

Winter recalls that Henning became most active in advocating for family farmers at a time when the hog industry, in particular, was gravely imperiled.

"Tim and I got acquainted in the era of the 10-cent hogs," Winter said. "That was back in the late 1980s, when farmers were getting practically nothing for their hogs.

"Tim was in hogs for quite a few years, but in the last few years he was more involved with cattle rather than the pork industry."

Vonnie Rutgers has served as secretary-treasurer of the Nobles County Farmers Union for more than 25 years. With Henning as president, Rutgers said the organization thrived.

"We had a good working relationship, and Tim was very dedicated to the Farmers Union," said Rutgers of Brewster. "He went to Washington, D.C., for meetings on farm policy, he was at state board meetings, the county fair -- wherever the Farmers Union was represented, he usually was there.

"He was a force in recruiting new Farmers Union members and getting members to renew, and with his leadership, the Nobles County Farmers Union received an award five years in a row, and we received several national membership awards because of his efforts, too."

But Rutgers pointed out Henning was always quick to share the credit for the Nobles County Farmers Union's success with her, and to thank her for her hard work on behalf of the organization, which is a non-profit, membership-based group that works to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life for family farmers and ranchers, as well as rural communities.

"Recently, he thanked me again for my work and told me he had appreciated what I'd done," Rutgers said. "It was emotional for him because of his situation."

Winter said during Henning's tenure as the DFL Senate District 22 chair, Henning "made sure it was organized and well-run."

Winter added, "Wherever Tim could have some impact -- making sure area farmers were getting decent payments for the use of their land when the wind towers were going up, on farm bill policy issues like country-of-origin labeling, or working on the packers and stockers legislation that benefited family farmers -- he was there working hard and trying to be a strong leader."

Henning also embraced his local community; he was a member of St. Anthony Catholic Church of Lismore and served nearly two terms as mayor of Lismore. In addition, he was a long-time supporter of and actor in the dinner theater productions of the Misfits of St. Kilian.

"We will miss having him involved, totally," said Audrey Brake, an organizer of the Misfits troupe. "Tim enjoyed doing it and always was ready to laugh and have a good time with the whole thing."

Henning's family, which includes his wife, Bridget, their four children (sons Lee, Matt and Nick and daughter Stacy Vortherms) and eight grandchildren, was close to his heart and very important to him.

Wrote daughter Stacy on Henning's CaringBridge website after his passing, "Dad is now at peace. All of his family was here with him when he took his final breath shortly after 7 p.m. I finally got to give him that big hug I have been waiting to give him for the last month, but couldn't because he was in so much pain. Thank you for all the prayers, thoughts, kind words and acts of kindness. He would not want us all to cry over his death but to celebrate his life."

An obituary for Henning appears on page A2 of today's edition.