Dehlinger's Favorite Story of 2021

A Family's Tragedy Touches Hearts, Motivates Action

Katie Micik Dehlinger
By  Katie Micik Dehlinger , Farm Business Editor
Guy Schafer (left) with son, Henry, and in-laws, Vicky and Jeff Purdue (Dave Charrlin) (Photo by Dave Charrlin)

Editor's Note:

2021 was a wild one, from a tumultuous change in the White House, to continued La Nina influences on the weather, to skyrocketing fertilizer and input costs. There were also a lot of good stories to tell. As the calendar year comes to a close, we asked the DTN/Progressive Farmer writing team to pick their favorite effort from the year. The stories range from fun insights into ag entrepreneurs to serious investigations into the unintended consequences of popular production methods, to life lessons learned along the way to telling the tale. Each story also includes a link to the original story, in case you missed that. Enjoy a look back, with our first story shared by Katie Dehlinger.


MT. JULIET, Tenn. (DTN) -- It's easy to forget that as human beings we have more in common with one another than we do differences. We all struggle with the big elements of life -- love, loss, illness, joy. We all dream. We all experience grief. Stories about our humanness are often the most difficult, and yet the most important, to tell. As a journalist, being trusted to tell these stories is the greatest honor of my career.

In 2021, I had the honor of profiling an Indiana farmer named Guy Schafer. I talk to a lot of farmers and consultants about the importance of estate planning as DTN's farm business editor, but Schafer's story resonated so deeply with me that I finally did some end-of-life planning myself.

I met Schafer at The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP) in January 2020, when the coronavirus was a concern that still seemed far away. If you haven't attended TEPAP, I'd highly recommend it. Farmers from across the nation gather for a business bootcamp of sorts. While there's plenty of top-notch classroom learning, it's the conversations with other farmers over coffee in the mornings and beers in the evenings where a lot of the real learning happens. (Find all the details about TEPAP here:….)

Schafer sat next to me during the first day of TEPAP that year. As we all introduced ourselves and shared why we were there, my jaw dropped. Schafer didn't grow up on a farm but had worked on a family friend's farm for most of his career. His wife's family farmed about 40 miles away, and her brother Nathan Purdue was set to take over that business when her father retired -- until Nathan Purdue died of a sudden illness the year before.

As a young man about my age, Purdue died without a will, and it created an enormous amount of additional distress for a family already wrought with grief. The details are not mine to share, but they scared me. While everyone's circumstances are different, we could all die at any time. What would happen to my young family if I or my husband were to suddenly have our lives cut short?

I left TEPAP determined to do some basic estate planning of my own. It took me six months to get my husband to agree it was important. He kept turning it into a joke, a telltale sign the topic made him uncomfortable. No one wants to talk about their death. I get that. But not talking about it gave me serious anxiety, and once I explained it from that perspective, my husband came around.

I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my second child when I visited Schafer's farm this summer. As he shared his story with me again while hauling beans to the elevator, I could listen to the details with a peace of mind I didn't have the first time. But I also heard it more than a year into a global pandemic that's cut many millions of lives short around the world. The sudden loss of a loved one from illness, accident or other cause unequivocally changes people's lives. It's a human experience, and one countless Americans can relate to.

For Schafer and the Purdue family, it changed everything about their world, and during my visit, it was abundantly clear the grief was still raw. I want to thank them for their courage in sharing their story with me and readers of DTN and Progressive Farmer magazine. I know it wasn't easy. As I've recently welcomed my second child into this world, I cannot express the gratitude I have for their story. It gave me the motivation I needed to address the inevitability of my death and plan accordingly, and for that, I'll be forever thankful.

That's why the profile I wrote of Schafer, "When Tragedy Opens Doors," is the piece of work I'm most proud of in 2021.

(You can read it here:….)

Katie Dehlinger can be reached at

Follow her on Twitter at @KatieD_DTN

Katie Dehlinger