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Bob Kilber - Farm Rescue

Bob Kilber is grateful for the efforts of Farm Rescue volunteers who will be planting fields on his farm this spring. Kilber was injured in a car accident and hopes to back on the farm full time in the fall.

Tyler Lautenschlager wasn't raised on a farm. But growing up in Watford City, you can't help but get at least a little farming fever in your blood just through osmosis.

Lautenschlager, a flight paramedic for Angel Air Care in Bismarck, was at the ready Tuesday in a field northwest of Mandan to provide help in a manner outside of his professional training.

He is one more than 40 active volunteers working with Farm Rescue, an all-volunteer, non-profit group that helps farmers who are unable to get their work done because of injury or illness.

Tuesday, field conditions were too wet to plant and the drill was down for repairs, but Lautenschlager and others were in the field.

History

Farm Rescue was founded in 2005 by Bill Gross, a Cleveland, N.D., native and full-time pilot for UPS Airlines.

Gross always kept in the back of his mind his father's concern about what would happen to their farm should something debilitating occur.

In 2006, Farm Rescue began going into fields in North Dakota, South Dakota, eastern Minnesota and western Montana, lending assistance during spring planting and harvest seasons.

Since that time, about 160 farm families have benefited from Farm Rescue.

The circumstances may vary: Some farmers are unable to get into the field because of injury and some because of illness.

Bob Kilber

Bob Kilber, 50, lives in Hazen and began farming on his own in 1999.

And like many farmers today, his operation is spread out across three counties.

Last October, while making a parts run to Bismarck, Kilber fell asleep at the wheel - at least that is what he thinks happened.

He woke up to find himself careening across the Interstate 94 median, across the on-coming lane, narrowly missing a bridge abutment before crashing and coming to a rest.

Kilber crushed his lower lumbar vertebra in his back. And while his injuries haven't required surgery, the recovery has been a long row to hoe.

"The first few months afterwards, my mobility was pretty limited," Kilber said. "I've been lucky ... I haven't had to have any surgeries. It's still holding together."

Kilber gets around with the help of a walker these days, until he regains his strength and stamina.

The hope for Kilber is he will be recovered enough by this fall to be able to operate the combine come harvest time.

Kilber said he was aware of Farm Rescue through news stories and other media coverage, but still it was difficult to make the phone call.

Call it stubborn pride - something farmers and North Dakotans generally are known for - but asking for help doesn't always come easy.

"I was frustrated," Kilber said. "It's hard not being able to do things myself."

Kilber said he knew it was time to check his ego.

He said he does have a couple of hired hands who he counts on now more than in the past. Another change Kilber said he has had to deal with is managing and organizing the operation rather than being hands-on.

And, he's learned that everyone needs help now and then. And in true North Dakota spirit, help is only a phone call away.

"It's been a humbling experience," he said.

The volunteers

The backbone of any non-profit group is the volunteer. Farm Rescue has had a real groundswell of support since day one.

From singular volunteers like Lautenschlager, to corporate sponsors like RDO Equipment Company and others, the help is there.

RDO supplies the equipment, and in the case of Kilber, it will be available until he gets 400 acres of wheat and 800 acres of canola in the ground.

The equipment will stay in the area and be used for a family in the Flasher area after Kilber's fields are planted.

When conditions allow, people like Dale Lamphere will be there.

Lamphere, 50, is from Canajoharie, N.Y. An equipment operator for the state department of transportation, he said he helps a friend who has a dairy farm from time to time.

A couple of years ago, Lamphere said he picked up a Farm Rescue brochure at the state fair, and after reading through told his wife, "I'd like to do that."

Because of budget issues with the state of New York, Lamphere said he has extra vacation time each year, unpaid. Last year, he helped Farm Rescue for the first time.

"My wife set it up," he said. He took advantage of his free time helping families in South Dakota, Minnesota and in the Jamestown area.

It's a win-win situation, as Lamphere put it.

"It's something I enjoy doing ... and I figure farmers get a raw deal the way it is, so I'll do anything I can to help them out," he said.

For Lautenschlager, his involvement began about four years ago. A friend from the Watford City area, Dustin Lien, signed on to be a volunteer for Farm Rescue.

"Now he's on the board of directors," Lautenschlager said.

He said he helped Lien over the years and, little by little, the farm life has grown on him.

"I learned bit by bit, and now things come pretty easy," he said.

This year, he's signed up to drive tractor when conditions allow. Up until now, he said he's been kind of a "go-fer," doing whatever was needed, like running for parts or moving equipment.

The payback is two-fold, Lautenschlager said. First, it gives him the chance to act like a big kid and play with big toys, he said, laughing.

"I get to drive really big tractors and life-sized Tonka toys," he said.

But Lautenschlager said the real payoff is seeing the looks on the faces of those he is able to help.

"I think the initial reaction is the best," he said. "They know we are coming, but I'm not sure they believe it until we actually pull into the yard."

He said the experience has intertwined two of the very best things in his life - his job as a paramedic, where he is paid to help others, and what he said he sees as his duty as a North Dakota son.

"You really see the whole cycle of life on the farm and how quickly it can just shut down the whole family," he said.

"It's North Dakota, and I know it's sometimes hard to ask for help ... but that's what we're here for ... to help our neighbors no matter what. It brings things full circle."

You can learn more about Farm Rescue by visiting its website at farmrescue.org.

Reach reporter Brian Gehring 250-8254 orΒ brian.gehring@bismarcktribune.com.

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