The headline read "Volga Man Dies in Train-Tractor Crash." Most of the world glanced at that and kept right on spinning, but our community ground to a halt. The enormity of this news took our breath away.
What can one say about Stanley Hesby? Words like "gentle Goliath" and "friendly" and "outgoing" come to mind, as does "pillar of the community." These all fall short.
Stan was more than just a pillar in our community; he was a mighty oak with deep roots and branches that spread far and wide.
What I remember most about Stan is that he enjoyed talking with people nearly as much as he loved his family and farming. During his lifetime, Stan served on countless committees and boards. His signature is on my high school diploma, a testament to nearly two decades on our school board.
Stan was outsized and gregarious. Closer to seven feet tall than to six, there were no strangers in Stan's world, only friends he hadn't met.
The Biblical edict to "love thy neighbor as thyself" wasn't merely scripture for Stan. It defined his way of life.
At his funeral - held in the church located less than a mile away from the farm where he spent his entire life - my wife and I spoke with Marilyn, Stan's widow. Marilyn said that it was our duty to not just mourn Stan's passing but to also celebrate his life. A cascade of memories flooded in.
When I was in high school, Stan took the Luther League on a hayride. This consisted of piling a bunch of teenagers and some straw bales into his grain truck and hauling us around the coiled roads of Oakwood Lakes State Park.
Stan rounded a tight curve at a speed that caused many of the girls to squeal. Hearing this, Stan, wearing his trademark ear-to-ear grin, called back to us, "Should I shift up to second gear now?"
On a hot summer's day many years later I was chopping oats when our silage wagon broke down. I instructed our two sons, who were in their early teens, to shovel out the wagon while I ran for parts.
They had scarcely begun this onerous task when Stan pulled onto the yard. He chatted with the boys a bit, then hoisted his considerable frame up into the silage wagon. Stan grabbed a silage fork from one of the boys and proceeded to empty the wagon single-handedly.
The boys were astounded that this enormous man should show up and spontaneously do such a thing for them. But Stan had an enormous heart and simply saw them as neighbors in need.
After my dad passed away, I began to hire Stan to combine our corn and soybeans. Mom would bring dinner out to the field and we would sit in her car on the headland with dinner plates on our laps and cups of hot coffee in our hands. Stan was a inveterate talker; there was never a quiet moment in that car, even while he was eating.
A few years ago, my wife and I sat across from Stan and Marilyn at a graduation gathering. Stan was yakking as usual when he absentmindedly picked up a miniature cupcake and popped it into his mouth. He chewed for a good while before swallowing.
"That cupcake was kind of tough," said Stan.
"Well, did you take the paper off?" asked Marilyn.
"No," replied Stan, blushing. "But a good wife would've taken it off for me!"
"Oh, poor Stan," replied Marilyn, her voice freighted with faux sympathy.
I last saw Stan at a wedding reception a few weeks ago. I noted that he seemed a bit gimpy. Stan replied that he'd been having ankle trouble and had undergone two surgeries.
"I told the surgeon that the second operation should be covered by warranty and should be free," said Stan with a twinkle in his eye. "The doctor said, 'Tell you what. If you don't wake up, I won't charge you anything!'" Stan chuckled mightily.
At 71, Stan had slowed some. But his gregariousness and his love of family and farming remained strong as ever. He was a regular at a coffee klatch that convened daily at the Prairie Lanes bowling alley. Stan's booming laugh often rang out as he and his coffee pals solved the world's problems and hashed over the latest news.
A few days after Stan's accident, Marilyn dropped off some money and a note at the Prairie Lanes. The note said that Stan regretted he couldn't be there that day, but that he would like to buy coffee for the guys one last time.
And there wasn't a dry eye amongst that crew of hardened old farmers.