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Couple's legacy of giving continues

In life — and in death — the late BJ and Bea Farmer believed giving back to the community they called home for seven decades.

Recently, five organizations — the Eau Claire Community Foundation, Grace Lutheran Communities, Mayo Clinic, Saving Grace Lutheran Church and the University of Arkansas — received financial gifts totaling more than $535,000 from the Farmers.

“It’s not surprising,” said the Rev. David Irgens, senior pastor at Saving Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire. “That was BJ. He was always thinking about how he could help.”

Irgens knew the Farmers for about 15 years, and at the end of the year, “BJ would come in, and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I just want to make sure I gave enough,’” recalled the pastor, chucking at the memory. “Then, he wanted to know what our finances were, where we were at and what he could do to help. He was just a wonderful man.”

Even before being notified of the Farmers’ most recent gift, “we knew BJ was a generous soul,” said Randy Bestul, Grace Lutheran Communities’ interim CEO, noting the businessman had donated money to the former Syverson Lutheran Home for the creation of a dementia wing.

“You get surprised with the generosity of people, (like the Farmers),” Bestul said.

“In providing their generous gift, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer advance the mission of Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, serving people in the region they loved,” said Dr. Richard Helmers, regional vice president of MCHS’s northwest Wisconsin region. “We are honored to recognize them as members of The Mayo Legacy, an extended family of Mayo Clinic benefactors whose gifts shape the future of patient care, research and education at Mayo.”

Born in Mulberry, Ark., BJ graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in business, which was followed by enlistment into the military. He served as a B-24 pilot during World War II.

Bea was born in Nebraska, and her family eventually moved to Colorado. She attended Denver University and the University of Colorado-Boulder, and after college, she worked as a flight attendant for United Airlines, based in Denver, where BJ was stationed after the war.

The couple married in Denver, and in 1948, they moved to Eau Claire, where he began his career in real estate, and they raised their three children.

Over the years, the couple also gave their time and their money to a number of organizations, including the Eau Claire Community Foundation.

“BJ was a promoter of leaving a legacy,” said Sue Bornick, ECCF executive director.

The Farmers were early members of the foundation’s Society of Founders, joining in September of 1997, and were instrumental in the early stages of establishing the ECCF, Bornick said.

BJ served in many capacities at the foundation, including as one of its first officers. He also was treasurer until 2003; served on the Development Committee since its inception, promoting the Leave a Legacy program; and founded a donor development and education program. He continued to serve on the Investment Committee until 2013.

When the Women’s Giving Circle was established in 2007 at the ECCF, Bea immediately became a founding member, committing $1,000. And in April 2011, the couple established the BJ and Bea Farmer Family Fund, an unrestricted fund for the most pressing needs of the community.

“BJ believed in taking care of everybody,” Bornick said. “He knew whatever was given was going to have a big impact.”

The foundation currently has more than $22.3 million in assets, of which over $18.5 million are endowments, Bornick said. The ECCF also has distributed more than $14.5 million in grants.

The legacy gift from the Farmers will continue to support grant awards from the foundation, Bornick said. “This give will give us a boost.”

The funds given to the Grace Lutheran Communities will go to support one of its memory care buildings and provide scholarships for the day care program and assistance to some staff members needing assistance with school loans, Bestul said.

Saving Grace Lutheran Church has launched a capital campaign, which already has brought in $250,000, to either purchase land and build a new building or buy a new space, Irgens said. The Farmers’ gift will go toward campaign.

“Hopefully, this (gift) helps people realize the community is important and encourages others to also give,” he said. “What a benefit to know that part of what you worked for is going to live on.”

Attorneys debate whether girl charged in death understands proceedings

CHIPPEWA FALLS — The 11-year-old girl accused of stomping on the head of 6-month-old Jaxon Hunter on Oct. 30, causing his death two days later, appeared in Chippewa County Court on Thursday, where attorneys discussed whether the girl understands the court proceedings and how that affects the future of the case.

Defense attorney Laurie Osberg explained in Chippewa County Court that she believes a preliminary hearing needs to be waived for the girl’s case to move forward. A preliminary hearing is where a judge reviews the charges and determines if a crime has been committed and whether the defendant is the likely person who committed the crime.

“We believe this case will eventually return to juvenile court,” Osberg told Dunn County Judge James Peterson. “In chambers, we were wondering if someone is competent enough to waive a preliminary hearing but not competent enough to stand trial.”

Osberg added: “We think the law has enough flexibility.”

The girl was given a mental evaluation earlier this month. The psychologist determined the girl is still not competent to proceed on a homicide charge at this time, but she is expected to be competent by next March, said prosecuting attorney Richard Dufour.

Dufour objected to the idea of allowing the girl to waive the preliminary hearing.

“Our position is you can be either competent or incompetent,” Dufour said after the hearing. “You can’t be ‘somewhat competent.’”

A competency hearing slated for July 3 will be the next court date in the matter.

The girl was brought to Chippewa County from Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh for the hearing. She sat quietly, dressed in a gray sweatshirt and bluejeans.

Osberg said the girl should be moved closer to home. She is currently in a female-only adult unit.

“They are not equipped to provide her with all the services she needs,” Osberg said. “She is getting some schooling, but she’s not getting therapy or counseling. The adult court can’t serve her.”

Osberg said she is still hopeful that Peterson will order the case into juvenile court. So far, Peterson has allowed the murder charge to be heard in adult court.

“He hasn’t said it will stay in adult court,” Osberg said.

Because the girl is considered incompetent at this time, the homicide case has been suspended indefinitely. She will continue to be reviewed quarterly to see if she becomes competent.

Jaxon was born April 6, 2018. He was at a day care, which also serves as a foster home, in the town of Tilden on Oct. 30 when the 10-year-old girl — who lived there as a foster child — was alone inside the house while everyone else was playing outside. The girl told authorities she panicked after dropping the baby, and then she stomped on his head when he began to cry.

Jaxon was transferred to a hospital in Minnesota, where he died Nov. 1 — two days after the attack.

The girl appeared in Chippewa County’s adult court Nov. 5 on a charge of first-degree intentional homicide by someone age 10 or older. She was ordered to be held on a $50,000 cash bond and be placed in a secure detention center.

Soggy fields leave Midwestern farmers with few good answers

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Between the country’s trade dispute with China and the seemingly endless storms that have drenched the central U.S., Iowa farmer Robb Ewoldt has had plenty of time to think about whether it’s too late to plant this season, how much federal aid he might get if he does or whether to skip it altogether and opt for an insurance payment.

Instead of driving his tractor, he’s driving a truck these days to earn a living while wondering how long it will be before he can return to his fields.

“Sometimes I think, what the heck am I doing farming?” he said recently by phone while returning home after hauling a shipment of dry ice to Chicago. “When you owe the bank money, you do some pretty crazy stuff.”

Ewoldt is one of thousands of Midwestern farmers facing such decisions as they endure a spring like no other.

It started with poor corn and soybean prices falling even further as the U.S. and China imposed new tariffs, and was compounded by torrential rain and flooding that has made planting impossible and killed off crops that were just starting to emerge.

Conscious that the trade dispute was devastating American farmers, President Donald Trump promised $16 billion in aid — an increase over last year’s $11 billion in aid — but the promise has only added to farmers’ confusion about how to approach this strange spring.

That’s because details about how much money farmers would receive won’t be released until later, to avoid influencing what crops they decide to plant. While there’s a rationale behind keeping the aid details secret, it adds another layer of uncertainty for farmers already guessing about the weather, future crop prices and how much they would get in insurance payments if they don’t plant a crop.

“It’s a take what you can get and keep moving year,” said Todd Hubbs, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois. “Depending on how the payments and everything break out, each farm is different.”

In the 18 states that grow most of the nation’s corn, only 58% of the crop had been planted as of last week — a far cry from the 90% that would ordinarily be planted by that point. In states that grow nearly all of the soybeans, less than half of the normal crop had been planted. Farmers have even taken to Twitter — creating a #noplant19 hashtag — to commiserate and share photos of their swamped fields.

For Jeff Jorgenson, it’s an all-consuming question of how much of his roughly 3,000 acres of southwestern Iowa land he can profitably farm. About a quarter of it can’t be farmed due to Missouri River flooding, and much of his remaining property has been inundated with rain and water from the neighboring Nishnabotna River.

Navigating muddy roads in his pickup truck this week, he tried to figure out whether it would be worth pumping water off his land or whether that would even be possible. Normally it wouldn’t be worth the effort, but with the prospect that the Midwest’s miserable weather will reduce the nation’s fall harvest, corn and soybean prices have started to rise and planting every acre possible has become more attractive than settling for insurance that would pay roughly half the revenue of a normal crop.

Jorgenson, 44, said it’s a puzzle trying to figure out how much land should remain unplanted and eligible for insurance payments, how much should be planted, how much money in federal aid will be available and whether those funding sources will be enough to cover his operating loan.

“Honestly, 24 hours a day, this is all you can think about,” he said.

Since Bob Worth started farming in 1970, this is the first year he’s opted not to plant on most of his 2,300 acres near the southwestern Minnesota community of Lake Benton. It was a difficult choice, but one Worth said he felt obligated to make given the ducks that are swimming where his corn and soybeans should be growing.

“I’m not going to try to destroy my ground to get a crop in,” he said, noting that planting equipment would rut and compact his land.

Despite insurance payments he will receive, Worth, 66, said he’ll need to refinance loans and lose some of the equity has built up on land that has been in his family for generations.

The deadline for not planting and taking an insurance payment without a penalty varies depending on the state and crop, but the decision time has either passed or is approaching. Hubbs, the Illinois economist, said choosing to opt out, especially when prices are rising, is agonizing for farmers but may be the right choice because of the risk of a poor harvest when planting late in soggy ground and the possibility that the farmer won’t be able to harvest the crop before the weather turns cold.

Hubbs said planting late won’t work out for many farmers unless summer and fall weather conditions are nearly perfect — a scenario that he said seems hard to imagine, given that “storms just keep firing up and moving through.”

Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University, said he worries that the federal aid Trump announced will encourage some farmers who would normally forgo a crop to instead risk planning on wet land. That’s a tough decision for individuals, but collectively it could reduce the supply of corn and soybeans and lead to higher prices.

“We’ve been stuck in a pattern of overproduction, and this could change that,” Hart said.

Ewoldt, who farms on about 1,100 acres he rents from relatives near the Mississippi River outside Davenport, said he hopes he can figure out what’s best for his farm and his family. Ewoldt, 47, said he’s good at producing a crop but that figuring out what to do in the coming weeks seems like guesswork.

“You’re trying to do the algebra equations and figure things out, but you have too many unknowns right now,” he said. “Nobody has a clue what we’re doing.”