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Farmers and friends quickly respond to personal tragedies

Submitted Photo Combines line a field after harvesting a crop on the Dusty Lodoen farm near Westhope. Lodoen was involved in a fatal farm accident the previous evening. Community members quickly volunteered time and equipment in a show of support for the Lodoen family. This photograph was taken by Devin Sisk.

There was no hesitation. No lengthy consideration about what needed to be done. Just do it.

In rural North Dakota, when tragedy strikes and someone is in need of a helping hand, there’s plenty available. No asking. No pleading. No explaining. It is just the way things are done. Good people do good things.

Two recent events, both life-changing, vividly illustrate the definition of the wonderful and caring character of friends and farmers, sometimes both, that reside in our state. On Sept. 9, Crosby area farmer Lane Unhjem, 57, suffered a severe heart attack while attending to a combine fire. On the evening of Sept. 30, Westhope area farmer Dusty Lodoen, 41, was killed in a farm equipment accident.

The news of what happened to both men spread rapidly through social media, across the wheat fields and into the homes of fellow farmers and friends. The reaction was instantaneous. Nobody had to convince anybody to help. Volunteers, many still weeping at the news, immediately responded to lend a helping hand in any way they could. They did so in the best way they knew how.

Jenna Binde, a long-time family friend of Unhjem, made a few phone calls to query those she thought might be willing to help out on the Unhjem farm. Unhjem was facing a lengthy hospitalization and recovery, and his crop was still in the field.

Submitted Photo The helping hand of fellow farmers and ranchers extended beyond the harvesting of Lane Unhjem’s crop. Volunteers returned to Unhjem’s property to gather and stack more than 700 round bales while Unhjem remained hospitalized. Photograph by Don Anderson.

“It was overwhelming,” said Binde. “About 60 or so farmers and neighbors came together to harvest his remaining crop. It was something pretty special.”

Indeed it was, but it wasn’t completely unexpected.

“That’s one of the benefits of small town USA,” said Don Anderson, Crosby. “Within a couple of hours we were turning people away. We had plenty of people standing by if we needed more help.”

Volunteers using 11 combines harvested 1,000 acres in little more than 7 hours. They had semi-trucks, grain carts and tractors to assist in gathering 15,000 bushels of canola and 35,000 bushels of durum. But the volunteers didn’t stop there.

“The first priority was the crop,” said Anderson. “The following Saturday 19 ranchers put up 714 bales in four hours. They got all his ranching taken care of.”

Submitted Photo Friends and neighbors showed support for Lane Unhjem of Crosby by harvesting 1,000 acres of his crop in a single day. Unhjem had suffered a heart attack in the midst of harvest season. Photograph by Don Anderson.

Good enough? Not hardly. Not for rural North Dakotans. A week later friends hosted a pancake breakfast and silent auction in Crosby where they raised nearly $20,000 to help out with Unhjem’s growing medical bills. What’s more, ladies in the area filled the Unhjem’s freezer with enough meals to last a month or more.

“Everything kind of came together in different ways to make things better for them,” said Anderson who also noted Unhjem’s medical situation. “It’s a spiritual thing too. God has his hands in it.”

When news of Lodoen’s death spread from farm to farm the generosity of rural North Dakotans was quickly displayed too.

“When I heard the news there was no doubt what I was going to be doing the next day because they weren’t done harvesting yet,” said Pete Artz, Westhope.

The morning after Lodoen’s tragic accident scores of volunteers, farmers and friends alike, gathered at the Lodoen farm. Twenty-one combines rolled in to do the work.

“We turned down lots but some guys brought them anyway,” said Artz. “Everybody was numb and grieving. They had work to do at home but just dedicated that day to the Lodoen family. They are just that kind of people.”

“We never thought twice about it,” said Devin Sisk. “The accident happened at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday and we had combines in the field by 11 the next morning. 800 acres was harvested by 3 p.m.”

Lodoen is survived by a wife and two sons, ages 4 and 2.

“He was one of the most generous young men ever. He helped a lot of people,” recalled Artz. “This reaction from everyone is the reason I live and do what I do. It’s the North Dakota way.”

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