‘When people need help, we step up’: Farmers harvest neighbor’s crops after he suffers heart attack

In less than seven hours, volunteers cut 1,000 acres of wheat

Farmers who pitched in to harvest neighbor's crops after he suffered a heart attack. (Don Anderson)

It’s always nice to hear about grand gestures -- people doing kind things for other people -- but while we’re searching all the time for Something Good happening in our communities, it’s not uncommon to see it unfolding in the town of Crosby, North Dakota. Just ask anyone who lives there.

“When people get down and need help, we step up. It’s the golden rule: Do unto others,” said Don Anderson, a Crosby resident of 59 years.

That was exactly the case when Lane Unhjem, a farmer, not only had his combine catch fire as he was harvesting, but then suffered a heart attack during the commotion.

A fire and a heart attack

Anderson said it was Sept. 9 around 3:30 p.m. when, as Unhjem was combining a field of durham wheat, his combine caught fire.

“He tried to get the fire out,” Anderson said. “As he fought the fire, he started feeling bad.”

Anderson said Unhjem suffered a heart attack and was sent by a medical helicopter to a hospital about 150 miles away in Minot, North Dakota.

Lane Unhjem's burned combine. (Don Anderson)

“He flatlined three times and (medics) brought him back with electric paddles,” Anderson said of Unhjem.

Almost immediately, when people got word about what happened, one of the local farmers, Jenna Bindy, started calling around to see who could help harvest Unhjem’s crops. She got more offers than she could use.

Selfless neighbors chip in

“They organized a harvest for Saturday (three days after the heart attack), and they all got together with 11 combines,” Anderson said.

A combine, by the way, in case you’re not familiar with the farming world, is used to harvest a variety of grain crops.

“Approximately 40 to 50 farmers, driving combines, pulling grain carts, driving semis and various other harvest-related items, converged on the Unhjem farmstead,” Anderson said.

In a little more than seven hours, the group cut 1,000 acres of wheat, he told us, adding that all the products needed to bag the wheat were donated. The bags cost about $900 each, and five were used that day.

Also donated: time. To underscore how invaluable that time is, Anderson told us that, between the bails and the harvesting, Unhjem would have been looking at a month’s worth of work.

“When harvest is ready, it’s ready,” he said. “Every day it sits in the sun or gets rained on, the quality drops and the price drops.”

And all those other farmers who came to Unhjem’s aid took the time away from their own crops that day to help out their neighbor.

“It was a sacrifice,” Anderson said. But not one that anyone seemed to balk at.

And that’s not where the community stopped. The hay on the land needed to be brought in for winter.

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Anderson said, “19 ranchers got together to haul 714 hay bales.”

Some of the farmers' wives wanted to do something helpful, too.

“They got together and decided to make a bunch of prepared meals so Lane could have meals when he gets home,” he told us.

Anderson couldn’t seem to convey just how giving his community is, because, as it seemed, no words could ever get the point across.

“I was diagnosed with cancer in May -- pretty severe,” he said. “They raised $35,000 in two hours.”

Years earlier, he’d been involved in a car crash. The community ran a pie sale at the local theater. “One pie went for $1,500," he said.

Unhjem’s status now

When we spoke with Anderson in early October, Unhjem was still in the hospital, but he’s been moved to University of Minnesota Health, where he’s continued dealing with problems associated with the heart attack.

“His kidneys shut down and he went on to have dialysis. He had liver problems, too,” Anderson said. “He’s got a lot of medical hurdles, but it’s one day at a time. Every day that he makes it, there’s a better chance."

People helping people

It’s easy to hear a story like this and be impressed with the unity that happens during hardship.

“We’re a pretty faith-based community, so it’s comforting to know the community and a lot of others put this in God’s hands,” Anderson said.

He said he’s grateful the country has taken notice of a small town in North Dakota, but he maintains that it’s a story just like dozens of others, because it’s a way of life for the people there.

“This happens all the time -- people helping people,” he said.

About the Author:

Dawn Jorgenson, Graham Media Group Branded Content Managing Editor, began working with the group in April 2013. She graduated from Texas State University with a degree in electronic media.