Tears rolled down my cheeks as Jim drove out of our driveway last Wednesday. Dan was standing on the front steps blowing him kisses and yelling, "See you later, Jim!" Monika was perched on my hip, oblivious to the emotional tension in the air. Glen had disappeared.
All I could say before Jim left was, "We're really going to miss you, Jim. Be sure to stop in when you're in the area." It wasn't nearly enough.
Jim is our Farm Business Management instructor, at least until September when he retires.
You might not read any front page stories about Jim's retirement after 33 years of working with farmers or how Minnesota will be losing one of its best Farm Business Management instructors, but Jim's retirement means a great deal to us.
I knew Jim and his wife, Jan, before he became our instructor. Lindsay and John, his daughter and son, were on my 4-H dairy judging team and we had practices at their farm. A few years later, Lindsay and I were students together at the U. She married one of Glen's fraternity brothers and the rest is history.
Jim became our Farm Business Management instructor when we farmed up north. In the five short years we worked with Jim, he saw us through some of our biggest challenges - moving to Stearns County, buying our farm and becoming parents.
After we moved to Stearns County, we were lucky enough to continue working with Jim, even though that meant a considerable drive for him. Once a month, for nine months of the year, Jim made the trek to join us at our kitchen table for number crunching, lunch and fellowship.
Through those monthly meetings, Jim became much more than our instructor.
Jim became our advisor. He shared advice about finances, contracting, grazing, parenting, and employee management. We talked about the future of our industry, oil prices, and the global economy. There was no topic left undiscussed during our meetings.
Jim became my connection to northern Minnesota. He often shared news about what was happening with the dairy farm families I grew up with. He always told stories about how Lindsay, Jake (Lindsay's husband) and John were doing.
Jim also became my connection to my heritage. We share Scandinavian roots (something that seems to be all but absent here in the German-Catholic capitol of the state). Jim introduced us to homemade viilia, a Finnish cultured milk product similar to yogurt, but easier to make. Jan provided us with a batch so I get started making our own. I had always wanted to make our own yogurt, but didn't want to fuss with heating milk. Viilia is the perfect alternative because it's made at room temperature. More than anything else, my daily routine of making viilia is what reminds me of Jim and his family.
Jim became like a grandfather to Dan. Jim always had sage parenting advice for us and never seemed to mind when Dan insisted upon sitting on his lap or sharing his piece of cake. I believe he may have even looked forward to it.
So, while Jim was training us to be better farm business managers, Dan was training Jim how to eat with one hand, hold a squirming child with the other and interpret toddler language. When the time comes, Jim is going to be a wonderful grandfather.
We invited Jan to come along with Jim for one of our meetings this spring. Dan ended up having a blast playing with Jan, but he couldn't say her name correctly. He talked about "Jim and Jam" for the whole next week, starting each morning with "Are Jim and Jam coming today?"
He also apparently believes that I only mop the floor when Jim is coming. One morning when I was scrubbing spots on the floor he asked me, "Is Jim coming today?"
Even though he'll no longer be sitting down at our kitchen table once a month to crunch numbers, Jim will still be our friend. And, even though many miles separate our farms, Jim's farewell last week wasn't good bye, it was "See you later."
Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 70 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have two children - Dan, 3, and Monika, 1. When she's not parenting or farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. Sadie can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.