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Volunteers Come Together For Community Harvest near Donnellson

Jason Parrott
Volunteers prepare lunch for the crews helping clear the fields of Joann Knisley. Her husband, Bill, died from injuries sustained in a farming accident this summer

Harvest season is a busy time as farmers rush to get their crops out of the field before that first freeze. This week, it also proved to be a time of community and friendship for a family in rural Lee County.

Joann Knisley of rural Donnellson cannot believe her eyes as she looks out upon one of her fields along Highway 2.

“It’s really amazing to see all of my family, friends, and neighbors come in to help take the crops out. I don’t know how I will be able to thank everyone. It is just heartbreaking, it’s unreal,” said Knisley.

It’s heartbreaking for Knisley because the harvesting was taking place without her husband Bill, who died this summer as a result of injuries he suffered from a farm accident. She said the harvest is a testament to the community.

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
One of the combines kicking up dust as it shreds through a cornfield.

“It’s just unbelievable we have so many friends,” said Joann Knisley. “I knew we had lots of friends when [Bill] passed away because we had 831 people show up at the funeral home and people went home because the line was so long. I mean it just, you know you have friends, but you don’t know how many friends you really have until something like this happens.”

Knisley said her family tried to start harvesting more than 150 acres of corn and beans over the weekend but the combine kept breaking down. She said she did not know what she was going to do until she got a call Monday morning from her brother, Gary Schiller, also of rural Donnellson.

Schiller told his sister the crops would be harvested on Tuesday with help from the community. It brought to reality something Schiller told Knisley months earlier.

“When my brother-in-law [died], I told my sister she did not have to worry about the crops,” said Schiller. “We will put something together to take it out.”

Credit Jason Parrott / TSPR
Two of Bill Knisley's great grandchildren play in the combine before it heads out to harvest soybeans.

What Schiller put together was basically a fleet of combines, wagons, and semis as well as about 40 volunteers, neighbors, and FFA students from the local high school.

“It’s very gratifying and satisfying,” said Schiller. “It’s kind of an emotional deal to put this all together. The community, all of the neighboring farmers called and wanted to help. It’s unselfishness and it’s just great.”

It took the volunteers about six hours to complete the community harvest.

The family said the plan is to rent or lease the land ahead of the next planting season.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.