RICHLAND CENTER — One could certainly get a feel for the kind of person 85-year-old farmer David Manning was by reading his obituary.
Born on September 15, 1934, Manning was an Eagle Scout, an Army veteran, a family man, a sports fan and a coach. He was also active in his community — and it was the community’s response on Mar. 27 that truly shed a light on the kind of person Manning was.
Manning, who had been farming in Ithaca for over 50 years, passed away on Mar. 22 after a long battle with lung and kidney disease. In the midst of a pandemic, the family knew they would be unable to hold a traditional funeral service, so one of Manning’s four sons put out a call on Facebook, asking those in the community to join them at the Clary Funeral Home for a large funeral procession of farm vehicles which would follow Manning to his final resting place in Willow Valley Cemetery.
Even as the 12:15 p.m. approximate start time of the procession neared, tractors and other farm vehicles could be seen driving on the shoulder of Highway 14 towards Richland Center, turning into the funeral home parking lot and following others down a long line as they prepared for the procession.
As the sun peeked out from the clouds, there were tractors of every size and color, combines, farm trucks, semis and even an Ithaca school bus lined up to escort Manning to the cemetery. Dozens of yellow slow moving vehicle lights blinked from the tops of those tractors and inside the cabs were farmers and community members young and old.
Leading the procession were members of the Manning family, driving Manning’s red combine and blue tractor that he used on the farm, along with a truck and trailer carrying Manning’s Bobcat skid steer.
“Dave used that Bobcat all the time,” said Kenny Anderson, a farmer, neighbor and friend of Manning’s.
Anderson was at the funeral with his friends at Huff-Nel-Sons Farms, a neighboring farm to Manning’s in rural Richland Center. Aaron Nelson, who farms in partnership with his brother, Andrew, and their parents, Larry and Sherry Huffman at Huff-Nel-Sons, said he and his family wanted to participate in the procession to show respect to the neighbor they worked with for many years.
“Dave’s funeral and visitation would have been full (if they could have had a traditional service),” Nelson said. “He was a respected man throughout the community.”
Manning did custom farm work for many neighboring farms, including Huff-Nel-Sons. Like Nelson, many of the farmers that came for his funeral had worked with him personally over the years.
“Dave was a good friend and a local guy in the community. He’s been there for everyone else so this is how we’ll be there for a neighbor,” said Joe Koch, who brought his tractor and his son, Max, to participate in the procession.
Koch remembered how his brother once got a flat tire on his tractor just outside of Manning’s farm; they pulled the tractor in and Manning lent him a spare tire so he could get back home. He pointed to the tractor his brother brought to the service that day – it still had Manning’s spare tire on the front.
“He was a pillar to the community,” Koch added. “It’s just natural to be there for him.”
“Dave was a good guy, and I wanted to be here for support,” added Duane Durst, who also farms in rural Richland Center. “This is the only way to do that right now.”
While over 100 farm vehicles followed Manning to the cemetery, others in the community had parked their vehicles along Highway 14 to watch the procession as it left the funeral home.
One couple that was sitting inside their car said they, too, were neighbors of the Mannings for 25 years. They’d seen several tractors go by their farm that morning and didn’t want to miss the opportunity to honor their neighbor and friend.
“I think this is just amazing,” the wife said. “It really shows the support of this community.”
To read Manning’s full obituary, visit https://www.clarymemorialfuneralhome.com/obituaries/David-Manning-12/#!/Obituary.