Barbara Thompson can keep a secret.
Thompson and her husband, Harley, hadn’t planned to go to Wednesday’s Kiwanis Club of Chippewa Falls Farm-City Program. The event at Dove Healthcare-Wissota Health and Regional Vent Center in Chippewa Falls honors people with the top farming awards in Chippewa County. It’s a program that has been going on since 1986.
This time, the Thompsons had a conflict in scheduling. That’s when former Chippewa County Agriculture Agent Calvin Kraemer called Barbara Thompson. Kraemer, a former winner of the Kiwanis Agricultural Friend of the Year award, told Barbara Thompson that the Cornell farm couple was this year’s winner.
So Barbara Thompson had to convince her husband of 55 years to attend the ceremony. And she had to keep quiet about the real reason they were attending.
“I was shocked. I had no idea,” Harley Thompson said about getting the honor.
Also surprised was Merle Richter. He came to the event to speak about the “Tour de Farm,” a bicycle ride that raised money for a scholarship carrying the names of the late Rodney and Jeremy Seibel, who died in a farm accident in July 2, 2015.
Richter, who taught 33 years in the Bloomer School District before retiring in 2005, was named the 2017 Kiwanis Agribusiness Friend of the Year. He is only the second person to receive the honor.
A family tradition
Harley and Barbara Thompson met at a Friday the 13th party. They spent their first date at a midnight showing of a movie at the Cornell Theater.
“He was tired by then,” she said of her future husband. “We were both rural people.”
That means starting the day early and working seven days a week. That’s hard for some people. Not the Thompsons. “It never seemed that much of a chore for us,” Barbara Thompson said.
Barbara Thompson’s family bought the farm in Cornell in 1954. Harley and Barbara moved to the farm on Jan. 1, 1969.
“Snow was that deep and it was 30 below,” said Harley Thompson, gesturing to show the snow depth while moving into the farm.
The couple would go on to have three sons and a daughter: Tim, Troy, Trevis and Tonja. “It’s just one of the better places to raise children,” Harley Thompson said of the farm.
Harley credits Barbara for helping him and giving him the support to keep farming. In his younger days he worked in a feed mill for two years and then the paper mill in Cornell for another two years, but he always was drawn to farming.
“This is truly a husband and wife team,” said Stephen Meinen of the Kiwanis Club. Together they support the FFA in Cornell, and promote the county on a dairy awareness committee. Harley Thompson has also served on the town board for the town of Cleveland.
Today, the family farm called Har-Barb is operated by one of the Thompson’s sons. Harley spends about 90 minutes on weekdays volunteering to help in Grade 1 classes at Cornell Elementary. “Today there are so many youngsters (where) their grandparents are not in the area,” he said. In his volunteer work, Harley Thompson hopes to fill some of that gap.
“I’m just proud of my community. I’m proud of Cornell,” he said.
Merle Richter has devoted much of his life to making things better in Bloomer.
This summer he helped honor the memory of Rodney “Ram” and Jeremy Seibel with the “Tour de Farm” 37-mile bicycle event, which raised money for a scholarship in the name of the Seibels and promoted farm safety.
Besides teaching agriculture at Bloomer for 32 years, carrying on after the retirement of famed teacher Ray Miller, he guided the Bloomer FFA to numerous awards. He served as national president of the National Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association in 1995, served on the executive committee for Farm Technology Days in Chippewa County and on the committee that worked to open the Bloomer Aquatic and Recreational Center. He also coached wrestling for Bloomer for 14 years.
“Truly any one of these accomplishments would be worth the honor,” said Tim Tozer of the Kiwanis.
Richter credited his family for supporting him and allowing him to help various causes since his 2005 retirement from teaching.