The day before Dan Muhlbauer died, he spent part of his day harvesting corn.
“I had to go to a Zoom meeting for Early Childhood of Iowa, so he jumped in the combine for me,” said Dan’s son, Dave, who is a member of the Crawford County Board of Supervisors.
Dan was harvesting corn just two weeks ago.
“That was his very last day,” said Dan’s wife, Patti.
Harvesting wasn’t the only thing he did that day.
“Two weeks ago today the kids didn’t have school, and it was a perfect ‘Dan day,’” Patti said. “He spent the first part of the day with Jack, one of his grandsons, and then he grabbed David’s little guy, Chas, and they all hauled bales.”
With Dan gone, the whole family came together on Wednesday to work the harvest.
Dave’s brother-in-law Robert Reisselman, hired hands Caleb Thompson and Eli Riessen, Dave and Dan would normally have worked the harvest together.
“Without Dad here, we’re missing a key figure in our whole operation,” Dave said.
Dan’s brothers Daryl, Gary, Mike, Tom and Jeff, brother-in-law Gary Hall and their sons all turned up on Wednesday to help bring in the corn harvest.
Dan’s sisters Donna Rohe and Barb Baker, sisters-in-law Tammy, Maria, Lisa and Theresa and brother Tom’s girlfriend Beth Huebner all helped provide a big lunch for everyone.
“Grandma Muhlbauer was there for lunch and rode in a combine,” Dave said. “She was very proud to see her family work together in Dad’s honor.”
“It’s been a family affair all day long,” Patti said.
Doug Svendsen, of the Harlan Farm Service Cooperative, delivered fuel to the fields where the crews were working.
“We’ve got four combines running, three grain carts, probably 10 semis,” Dave said, “and there has been a whole crew moving bales at home.”
The family was finishing what Dan started, Patti said.
Dave said they knocked off about 160 acres of corn on Wednesday; the rest of the family went home on Thursday.
“They wanted to do a good day for us and help us get caught back up,” he said.
Dave expects to finish harvesting the rest of the corn by the end of next week.
Dan had already been handing over the reins of the farm to the younger generation; his loss meant that the transition happened all at once.
“He was kind of stepping back and handing more and more over to myself and my brother-in-law Rob as far as cattle and renting the ground,” Dave said.
“We all harvest together, anyway, and Dan just kind of filled in wherever the boys needed him,” Patti said. “If there was a breakdown, he was there. He just left a big hole in our family.”
Dan wanted to stay involved but also wanted to step back.
“I asked him one time about the boys and if they are ready to handle all this, and he said, ‘They know everything I know. I’ve taught them everything I can. Yes, they’re ready to handle it on their own,’” Patti said.
“Dad has always worked hard and he taught us so much over the years,” Dave said. “If it wasn’t for him and what he taught us – how to farm – we wouldn’t be able to take over like we are.”
Harvest season was one of Dan’s favorite times of the year.
“He absolutely loved it,” Dave said. “You work all year long to get the crops in and get through the weather in the summer; it’s the time of year you get to finish what you started.”
“He lived for this time of year,” Patti said. “In fact, he looked better than he had looked for a very long time. I think part of it was the fall season and gearing up to get out here and get the crops in.”
She said Dan might have known that this could be his last harvest, but if he did, he didn’t let on.
“He was going to live as hard as he could for as long as he could, doing the things he loved the most,” she said.
Dave said his dad had work he planned to get done every day and that’s what he did until his last day.
The farm was part of his identity, Dave said.
“He loved his work and his family,” Patti said.
“The farm and the family were what was really important to him - and to have all the family come together like this means a lot,” Dave said.
“It’s a blessing to us,” Patti said.