PARKER CITY, Ind. (AP) — It was harvest season, and to the casual observer, the activity in the fields along Randolph County Road 550-N was nothing out of the ordinary.
But there was nothing ordinary about the effort on this day. This was a community coming together for one of its own, in a time of need. This was a group of farmers pausing their own harvest season process and giving their time, equipment, energy and knowledge to another family.
This was the kind of effort that so many people identify with the Hoosier way of life.
"It means everything," said Jim Hottinger. "It wouldn't have gotten done without them. Well, it would have, but it would have taken forever."
The emotion in Hottinger's voice was noticeable, as he's still wrestling with the fact that his son, Joe, died in a motorcycle accident in July. A young farmer who had earned the respect of the farming community in Randolph County, Joe Hottinger had planted his 650 acres of beans and corn in the spring of 2017, only to die tragically before harvest season arrived.
And so, for one day in mid-October and another in early November, friends of the Hottingers joined forces to harvest Joe's crops, for the benefit of his surviving family. This was no small effort, and that effort did not go unnoticed by family members who gathered to discuss this act of kindness.
"It's just amazing how so many people can come together," said Jessica Braun, Joe's sister. "If Joe was still here right now, he would be so busy."
But he's not here, and those left behind include his girlfriend, Danielle Ervin, and her two girls, Maleigh, 11, and Aberee, 8, whom Joe was helping raise. Danielle is pregnant with Joe's only child, a girl, and she's going to name her Joesy Lou, the first name an obvious tribute, and the middle name because "Joe always wanted a Lou."
On this Friday afternoon, more than 40 people were working together to accomplish what Joe would have done across many days. Eleven combines were shelling corn in four plats of land, and 20 semi-trucks were on hand to deliver the grain from the fields to the elevator. The hope was to be finished in 3, or maybe 3 1/2, hours.
Clifford Coulter, a lifelong Randolph County resident, spearheaded the assistance. He pulled his flip-phone out of his flannel shirt and noted the importance of keeping it charged so that he could be in proper communication with all of the volunteers.
When asked about the time commitment for a large group of volunteers compared to the time it would have taken Joe, Coulter quickly started running farming math through his mind, talking out loud as he added up the number of 6-row, 8-row and 12-row heads that were being used Friday and coming to 92 total rows, and then comparing that to the single 6-row picker that Joe used, and estimating that about 3 hours of harvest time would compare to nearly 50 hours for Joe. And that doesn't count the time hauling to the elevator, which on this day was being done with multiple trucks and multiple drivers to avoid repeatedly getting out of the field and back in.
This commitment to help the Hottingers speaks to the work ethic of Coulter, and so many others in this farming community.
"If it's Christmas Day, and there's corn in the field, Clifford is not at the dinner table, I can tell you that," Jim Hottinger said.
Coulter, 79, and Jim Hottinger, 65, were quick to praise Joe Hottinger's determination to thrive as a younger generation farmer.
"I could have asked him to do something for me, or asked to use a tool, and he would do anything for you," Coulter said. "Anything you ask."
Ryan Braun, Jessica's husband and Joe's brother-in-law, said that Coulter's opinion of Joe spoke volumes.
"Clifford, with his age and his wisdom, for somebody like that to think so highly of Joe, I just think that kind of shows what kind of person he was," Ryan Braun said.
On this day, those doing the work made time to continue family traditions, too. Jim Hottinger's children and grandchildren always enjoyed rides in the combines during harvest, and so Danielle's girls, Maleigh and Aberee, were going to get a ride. So too were Ryan and Jessica's three boys: Roman, 16, Rhoady, 14, and Rigley, 11.
This support that is commonplace in small towns across Indiana helps paint a different picture than another stereotype.
"Everyone complains about small towns because everyone knows your business, they get in your business, but I think this shows how great small towns are," Danielle said.
Help came from outside of this immediate circle of Randolph County farmers, too. Andersons, the grain elevator company, donated lunch for everyone helping Friday. Reynolds Farm Equipment in Muncie donated some equipment for the day. And Marathon Oil donated 800 gallons of fuel to power the vehicles doing the work.
Information from: The Munice Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com