There’s a reason the old saying “baptism by fire” has endured for decades.
Ellen Joslin of Sidney experienced it acutely right after her daughter Gail was born. She’d married a farmer named Rob and when Gail was three months old Rob’s father died leaving crops in the field and more to be planted.
“The day after the funeral was my first time in a tractor,” Joslin remembered. The family farm needed tended to and Rob needed a helping hand to get the job done. The Joslins continued to get the job done, side by side, on their wheat, corn and soybean farm in Shelby County for the next 30 years until Rob passed away last May.
“She’s a strong-willed woman,” said family friend and fellow farmer Bart Rogers. “He drove the truck and she ran the combine. They did stuff together, just the two of them.”
Along with the 800-acre farming operation, Rob became very active in the Ohio Soybean Association, serving as president and chairman of both the Ohio and American Soybean Association at various times. The Ohio Soybean Council Foundation recently named a scholarship in his honor. (Editor’s Note: Since this story was published, Rob also was honored with American Soybean Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to Ellen and their daughter, Gail, during the 2017 Commodity Classic.)
Ellen fell in love with agriculture and also took leadership roles, serving on the Ohio Soybean Council and the Ohio Farm Bureau Board of Trustees for 14 years before retiring from the board. Both active Farm Bureau members, she now also serves on an American Farm Bureau Issues Advisory Team on the topic of international trade.
The Joslins were active in their Shelby County community and with their fellow farmers like Chris Gillespie, who suddenly found himself in charge of the family farm when his father died unexpectedly in 2004. He was leaning on fellow farmers for support and knew Rob from a mutual friend.
“I leaned on him for information about everything,” Gillespie said. “He gave me a crash course on how to take care of everything. He was a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes I’d just stop by and have a beer and we’d talk about everything.”
Starting over again
Last year’s planting season started like any other. The couple discussed what seed to buy and how much crop to plant. They studied sales contracts and talked about what equipment might need replaced or repaired.
In addition to the planning for the family farm, they also were helping plan a wedding for their daughter Gail. The Ohio State University graduate and now an optometrist in Wilmington, N.C., was engaged in April 2016 and planned to get married in September.
So when Rob suddenly passed away, it was a baptism by fire all over again for Ellen. There were crops in the field that needed tended to and, after the wedding, there would be 800 acres that needed to be harvested. And there were hearts that needed to be healed.
But it didn’t take long for Rob and Ellen’s friendships they had long since cultivated in the farming community to show their true colors, starting with the funeral.
“(Rob) was the kind of guy that when he made friends, he kept them,” Joslin said. “Almost every person he served with showed up. People came from 10 different states.”
Friends came again at harvest time, when Joslin needed more sets of hands to drive the trucks while she drove the combine.
Life came full circle as Gillespie, Rogers and other friends and neighbors, all of whom were able to get their harvests complete because of agreeable weather this past fall, came to the Joslin farm to help Ellen reap what she and Rob had sown together.
“I wanted to finish this year,” Joslin said as she looked down the rows of yet-to-be harvested corn one day in late October. “I wanted to complete the cycle. They’re all helping me get this accomplished.”
Every one of them knew that the Joslins would do the same thing for them or already had.
“That’s what farming is about,” Rogers said with a nod. “When someone needs help, you pitch in.”
Perhaps not too ironically, it will be Rogers and his family who will help carry on the tradition of the Joslin family farm. He and Ellen are in discussions to operate the farm in a partnership in 2017.
“Rob and I always talked about wanting to help a family carry on the farm for the future—to support a farm family,” Ellen said. “If we can help a farmer, we help agriculture along the way.”
Featured photo: Joslin drives the combine to complete the corn harvest on her Shelby County farm last fall.