CLARKSVILLE — Between planting and harvest this year, Randy Wedeking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Farm Rescue, a nonprofit organization, helped Wedeking and wife Brenda harvest their 1,200 acres of corn in Butler County this week. The North Dakota-based group helps farmers in need by providing hands and equipment.
Volunteers brought a combine and other equipment to help with the harvest. However, Wedeking wasn’t going to sit it out. He drove his tractor and hauled his grain cart alongside the Farm Rescue combine.
“The harvest is what it’s all about,” Wedeking said Tuesday. “I’ve got probably the best corn crop in my 44 years.”
The couple noticed something wasn’t quite right during harvest last year. Randy Wedeking was getting easily fatigued and had trouble with fine motor skills. They finished harvest nonetheless. He wasn’t much better in spring, but again the couple managed to get through planting. Wedeking was diagnosed with ALS in late June.
Brenda Wedeking began to look for help with the upcoming harvest and found Farm Rescue.
“We knew the disease would progress,” she said. “We didn’t know what condition he would be in by fall.”
Although Wedeking can’t tie his shoes and needs two hands to brush his teeth, he ran the tractor and with family help harvested about one-third of his corn.
“I’m going to do it as long as I can climb up into that cab,” he said.
Levi Wielenga, Farm Rescue equipment specialist, said he wasn’t going to make Wedeking sit out the harvest “as long as he can physically do it.”
“I haven’t spilled a single grain,” Wedeking said.
That Wedeking is determined to work to finish the harvest wasn’t a surprise to Wielenga.
“You will never stay farming if you’re not determined,” he said. “You’re just an eternal optimist if you’re a farmer.”
For years, the Wedekings have worked to upgrade their equipment. Randy Wedeking retired from Terex Crane in Waverly but continued to work on the farm he has shared with his wife for more than 35 years. A similar retirement from farming wasn’t his plan, he said.
“I just wanted to do something useful right up to the day I died,” he said.
Wedeking choked up with emotion thinking this harvest might be his last.
“Once we’re done, that’s ... that’s probably going to be it,” he said.
The couple built the operation and finally acquired all the equipment they needed.
“Now he can’t run it,” Brenda Wedeking said.
Knowing it may be their last harvest is hard on both Wedekings.
“As a farm wife, it kind of hurts,” she said. “I know it hurts my husband worse — it’s his dream.”
“It has been a fun ride for us,” said Randy Wedeking.
With their last harvest comes a new outlook. Wedeking said he feels more at peace than ever. He credits his faith and wife.
“I used to be high strung, and I worried about things that weren’t important,” he said. “Now I’m actually living and trying to live my life to the fullest.”