A Tribute to Tommy Dell

October 29, 2010 07:00 AM
A Tribute to Tommy Dell

One of the best things about being an agricultural journalist is the farm families we get to know. When tragedy strikes, it’s also one of the hardest.

Tommy Dell, a central figure in Farm Journal’s farm succession planning effort, the Legacy Project, died Wednesday, Sept. 29, on his Westminster, Md., farm. He was 36.
The Dell family was in full harvest mode when Tommy accidentally lifted the bed of a grain trailer into some overhead power lines. He was simply trying to drain water off the top of the tarp. His fatal error occurred when he exited the truck and remained in contact with it when he touched the ground.

The Dells’ generational challenges have been chronicled in these pages for nearly two years. Their progress had the entire family excited about the future.

In recent months, they had put the finishing touches on a new grain-drying system and downsized the dairy herd, and the third Dell generation—Tommy and his brothers, Gary and Doug—were settling into defined roles. Farm Journal will continue to help the family with their succession planning as they sort through and heal from this tragedy.

Embracing life. Tommy had a full-throttle personality. You can find his name linked to everything from activities as a local wrestling coach to comments submitted regarding the recent Department of Justice hearings. Agriculture—and our society—needs more people like him.

He was a farmer seed salesman, a Colts fan and a duck hunter. He raised Angus cattle and goats. His dog, Sadie, was his constant sidekick.

Tommy’s wife, Shannon, began blogging for the Farm Journal Legacy Project Web site in September. Her first post told of a city girl falling for a country boy and life on the farm. It is a love story that made our hearts rejoice and now, ache. Our photo files are filled with images of Tommy and Shannon and their young children, Josie and Grady.

His memorial service was held at the indoor livestock arena on the Carroll County fairgrounds. It was the only place big enough to hold the hundreds that gathered trying to imagine life without Tommy Dell’s endless enthusiasm.

Shannon’s heartfelt eulogy to her husband reminded friends and family that he lived each minute of his 36 years with extraordinary vitality. “We danced every day,” she said.

It didn’t take long to get to know Tommy. Although he could occasionally be shy, he believed in bear hugs for friends and family. He would drop everything to be at the end of the lane to meet the school bus.

Working with family by day wasn’t enough. When the young Dell cousins piled into the farm pond along with their 4-H show pigs this summer, Uncle Tommy was amid the melee. His life is a testimony to embracing everything around us.

Unfortunately, this incident is a grim reminder that life is fragile and farming remains a dangerous occupation.

The Dells entered our Legacy Project as a four-generation family striving to succeed in the farm’s transition. They hoped their story would also touch the lives of other farm families. Little did they realize how much.

You can e-mail Pam Smith at psmith@farmjournal.com.



Sign Up to Attend a Legacy Project Workshop

Fishers, Ind.: Tuesday, Dec. 7

Columbus, Ohio: Wednesday, Dec. 8 

Lansing, Mich.: Friday, Dec. 10


To register, go to www.farmjournallegacyproject.com/events or call (402) 330-0289.

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