Farming with a void

Webster family remembers husband, father


ELLSWORTH, Wis. — The Webster family always farmed as a team. 

Kim and her husband, Brian, raised three kids, Mitchell, Jennifer and Thomas, on the dairy and were making plans to transition the farm to the boys while Jennifer grew her career in grain marketing. 

Kim and Brian’s wedding anniversary was only two weeks away, and retirement was just over the horizon for Kim when those plans came to a halt.

Brian took his own life Aug. 3, 2023, when he was just 58 years old.

“He was the love of my life,” Kim said. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

Thomas continued milking the herd of 75 Holsteins in Brian’s absence with the help of his girlfriend, Kylie Larsen. 

Last Fall, Mitchell and Thomas harvested the last crop that Brian had planted. They farm around 1,100 acres and have an additional 200 acres of pasture. Mitchell and his wife, Taylor, manage a beef operation and raise pigs for an Iowa pork company as well.

Brian was a fourth-generation dairy farmer who loved to talk to everybody, Kim said. He was also a seed corn dealer and would not sell any seed that he had not already grown himself. 

“He touched a lot of people’s lives in the community,” Kim said. “He was a popular guy.”

Jennifer learned a lot about the markets from Brian at a young age. Every Sunday morning, they watched “Market to Market” together on PBS. At the end of every day, she printed the market reports so the two could discuss them when he came in from milking. It led to her career at CHS Inc., where she continued to share her love of commodities with Brian. 

“It’s really hard because I usually called Dad and told him what the markets were doing,” Jennifer said. “I cry on my way to work, and I feel like I’m supposed to call my dad, but I can’t because he’s not here.”

Kim said she feels compelled to share her husband’s story because it might help someone else who is struggling with suicidal thoughts. 

Since Brian’s passing, she has worked with a counselor to cope with grief. She has also tried to learn as much as she can about mental illness to understand Brian’s struggle.

Brian had been on medication for mental illness but continued to have a difficult time. He was navigating the side effects of a change in medication which left him dizzy and lightheaded. Per the doctor’s instructions, Kim took Brian to the emergency room where he was given fluids and sent home.

Kim said the emergency room experience left her wondering if there was more that she could have done and why her husband chose to end his life. She would like to advocate for more resources in the emergency room.

“I feel sometimes like I wasn’t paying attention like I should have,” Kim said. “But at the time, I wouldn’t have known that he would have done this. I wish he would have talked to me.”

Kim said it helps to talk about her loss with people, even though she does not want to burden anyone. She encourages people to stop in and see her and the boys on the farm. She especially worries about Thomas, who also struggles with mental illness.

“It’s different,” Thomas said. “He’s not here for advice so we just have to sink or swim on our own now.”

Since Brian always took care of the finances, Kim and the family are figuring it out together. They were advised not to make any major decisions about the future of the farm for 18 months. Kim tells the boys to take it one day at a time and tries to do the same.

“Even though I knew he wasn’t coming back, I kept waiting for him to walk through the door,” Kim said. “Reality is hitting now.”

Since Brian’s death, Jennifer is working to expand the Farmer Angel Network, a support group that focuses on rural community outreach. A division called Farmer Angel Network of Western Wisconsin can be found on Facebook.

Kim and the family have made it a mission to celebrate Brian’s life and remember the good times. Even though it was hard to get away from the farm, the family enjoyed vacations to the Wisconsin Dells, South Dakota and Duluth, Minnesota, while the kids were growing up. After chores, Kim and Brian would often go for drives to spend time together, treating themselves to a meal or ice cream.

“God gave us a lot of memories,” Kim said. “I believe Brian is preparing a place for me, and someday, he’s going to come get me. But, I have to be here for the kids right now.”


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