MARATHON CITY, Wis. – Jerome Krautkramer was meant to dairy farm. When the effects of an early-age car accident caught up to his body, however, the 65-year-old farmer knew he needed to do something if he was going to make it to retirement.
    Thanks to the help of Easter Seals Wisconsin, Krautkramer feels blessed to have nearly reached his goal of retirement after milking his herd of 135 cows for the last 33 years near Marathon City, Wis.
    At the age of 18, Krautkramer was one week away from beginning his first semester of college when his life was changed forever. While driving into work one foggy August morning, the vehicle he was riding in was struck by a gravel truck.
    “There were three of us riding together into work that morning,” Krautkramer said. “Visibility was very poor, and we were t-boned by a gravel truck making a turn.”
    Krautkramer recalled being knocked out from the hit and moments later waking up to realize what had happened. He pulled himself from the vehicle just before the vehicle was rear-ended by another gravel truck.
    “While we all survived, all of us were injured from the crash,” Krautkramer said. “My hipbone broke off in the back, I had a bruised kidney, collapsed lung, and they had to remove my spleen.”
    After two months on bedrest and an additional three months of healing, Krautkramer began school the following January and went on to graduate from the technical college printing program in Wausau, Wis.
    Upon graduation, Krautkramer began his career as a newspaper journalist in northern Wisconsin before returning to the Wausau, Wis., area to work at a print shop – a job that required a significant amount of heavy lifting. While in this role, neighbors of the farm where Krautkramer grew up approached him with the opportunity to buy their dairy farm.
    “I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’ll try it,’” Krautkramer said. “I’m a country boy at heart, anyway.”
    Krautkramer’s brother, Paul, had also begun farming a few years prior on their home farm down the road. After four years of farming separately, the brothers merged their herds and began a partnership. Today, the brothers milk the 135 cows and farm 700 acres of land that make up Krautkramer Brothers Dairy Farm.
    In the years that followed his accident, Krautkramer said his hips and back bothered him but had minimal effect on his daily routine.
    “Young bones heal, but age catches up to you with time,” Krautkramer said.
    Tasks around the farm such as bedding and feeding began to increase in difficulty. In 2014, at the age of 61, Krautkramer knew something needed to change if he was going to make it to retirement.
    “I wanted to farm until I turned 66 [in order] to get full social security benefits,” Krautkramer said. “I have a degenerative herniated disk, which essentially means I have arthritis in my back that keeps getting worse.”
    In the winter of 2014, an implement dealer delivering a load of parts to Krautkramer made a suggestion that would help him reach his goal.
    “I mentioned that my back was bothering me as I asked [the dealer] to pick up a particularly heavy box,” Krautkramer said. “He mentioned that the Easter Seals helps keep farmers with disabilities farming.”
    According to their website, the Easter Seals FARM program began in 1989 to help farmers return to farming after a disabling accident or illness. Krautkramer reached out to Easter Seals to see what options were available for his farm. A month later, Jeff Kratochwill, a rural rehabilitation specialist with Easter Seals Wisconsin, visited the farm to evaluate areas that could help alleviate Krautkramer’s pain.
    By the following spring, Easter Seals had provided Krautkramer with an automatic feeder for the barn, sand shoot attachment for the skidsteer, a tray attachment for his ATV for hauling water and milk to calves, and quick hitches for the farm’s chopper boxes. Krautkramer said all of the adjustments have greatly benefited his day-to-day routine.
    “I used to push six wheelbarrows of feed from the feed room to the barn twice per day, use a shovel to level down sand in the free stalls and carry four, 5-gallon pails of water to the calf hutches twice per day,” Krautkramer said. “These adjustments took the pressure off of my back and hips.”
    Four years later, Krautkramer is especially grateful for the help of Easter Seals. Turning 66 in January, he is looking forward to reaching his goal of retirement during the 2019 summer.
    “My nephew is interested in cropping on the farm, so my brother and I intend on helping him get started,” Krautkramer said. “I owe it to Easter Seals that I made it to my goal.”
    Krautkramer said Easter Seals’ generosity has benefited more individuals than only himself.
    “Because I was able to stay farming, I was also able to keep four other hired hands employed,” Krautkramer said. “It’s more than just one farmer who is effected by these tools; four other families benefited from these gifts, as well.”
    Krautkramer admits that while asking for assistance is difficult, other farmers who are in pain or struggling should consider reaching out to Easter Seals to see what resources are available for them.
    “As farmers, we don’t always like asking for help,” Krautkramer said. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask for help, either, but I wouldn’t be here if I had not done it.”
    Krautkramer looks back on his dairying career with nothing but fondness. With plans is to retire this summer, he admits he will not really be retiring.
    “Farmers don’t retire; we just slow down a little bit,” Krautkramer said. “I didn’t plan to be a farmer; it just happened that way. If given the chance, I would do it all over again.”