I met Tom Kies the summer of 1982. His daughter and I had decided to get married. Sometime in the month between decision and proposal, Tom and Marion and Nancy and I had dinner together. I was nervous. I was a grad student with no real job, about to move to Texas to start my next degree. Our commitment meant that Nancy would join me there sometime soon. We shook hands. The evening went fine.
Tom was a businessman, farming was his business. He grew up on a farm in Michigan that’s now been in the family 170 years. Sixty years ago, Tom and Marion bought their own farm 20 minutes away. They started with nothing. They raised crops and cattle and five kids. He built the farm and a seed corn dealership, served on the school board, was helpful to others and thoughtfully, deliberately competent in his work.
When we’d visit, sometimes I’d ride with him on the combine, in the truck, on the tractor. We’d talk work and family. We’d talk faith and God and trust. He was sure our daughter would be healed, sure the prenatal tests were wrong. It took him awhile to walk through her death.
Marion died almost four years ago. He lived at home on the farm for as long as he could, but not as long as he wanted to. Nancy would drive him back to the farm once a week when she visited. She’d hear the same stories. One of the stories was about a farm. “We should have bought that when we had the opportunity,” he’d say every time. “I don’t know why we didn’t. We could have figured out the money.”
One of the times I heard it, I turned to him and said, “One of the things I admire about you is that you did things right. You didn’t speculate, you didn’t take the risks that cost other people their businesses. That’s why this farm is in its third generation.”
We always shook hands before leaving. His grip was always strong. “Be careful,” he’d say in recent years. On Thursday, the last time I took his hand, he didn’t shake it. But I was careful anyway.
Tom died Saturday, on that granddaughter’s birthday. He was 93.
Be carefree, Tom. I love you too.
I’ll be taking a couple of weeks away from here. You’ll hear from Paul Merrill on August 3. Thanks for your support. Jon and Nancy.