GOSHEN — In 1957, Elmer Lehman came to Harrison Township to help a township 4-H club get organized, and he inspired a 10-year-old boy.
“I don’t remember what he said, but I know at the end of the night it was, ‘Sign me up,’” said David Hess.
Now Hess earned the award named after Lehman, the Uncle Elmer Award from the Elkhart County Agricultural Society.
Earning the honor was touching for Hess, between his father having earned it in the 1990s and the high respect he has for so many of the past winners of the Uncle Elmer award.
“To be named with that group, it’s pretty humbling,” Hess said in the kitchen of his farmhouse, the oldest part of the house started five generations back, a little over a decade after Elkhart County was organized.
His son, Jim, daughter-in-law and two of his four granddaughters live on another part of the farm, and Hess credits his wife, Diane, and their kids, Jim and Gretchen, for helping him maintain the farm while he helped serve the community.
“This type of award is really an award for the family. You can’t be involved in all I’ve been involved in without the help of family,” Hess said.
Hess has been involved in a lot. He served on the Farm Bureau Co-op board in the 1970s (along with four other Uncle Elmer winners and one member of a Farm Family of the Year), and then was regional manager for Indiana Farm Bureau from 1977 to 1982. After that he kept active with speaking engagements around the region. He also recorded a country-gospel album in Nashville and performed at fairs.
He was elected as one of the Elkhart County commissioners in 1984, and has held a role in county government since then, as commissioner, county administrator, auditor and now as a member of the county council.
He’s served on local and state ag committees and on the Elkhart County Purdue Cooperative Extension board. At the height of the farm crisis in 1988, Hess became a mediator to help try to prevent farm foreclosures. “That was really an interesting process,” Hess said.
Following that experience, he did some free-lance work for the Farmers Home Administration.
He’s been active in church and in various community groups.
It’s a legacy of service he inherited. Two of his great-grandfathers were township assessors in Elkhart County, and his grandfather was a trustee and assessor.
“There’s a lot of history here of being involved,” Hess said, and in his ancestors’ writings, he gets to experience a first-hand account of the early days of the county.
His love of family and local history gives him a unique perspective. He points to nearby C.R. 32 and points out that it’s unusual to have a barn closer to the road than the farmhouse. However, when his ancestors built the house, C.R. 32 didn’t exist and the only access road was what today is C.R. 111. It wasn’t until mechanized equipment took over from horses for road building that the county cut a road through the back end of the property.
The family history reminds him of the debts of gratitude we all owe, he said. “We’re all standing on the shoulders of those who came before us,” he said.
To win the Ag Society’s highest individual award, given to someone who, like Lehman, shows a life of promoting local agriculture, means a lot to Hess. “It was very humbling,” he said.
He’ll be honored at the Ag Society’s banquet Tuesday evening, Aug. 27.
At the Elkhart County Agricultural Society banquet Aug. 27, the society will honor Eighth Street Mennonite Church of Goshen as the 2013 Centennial Church.
The society will honor the Rolland and Sandra Eby farm of C.R. 3 outside Elkhart as a Centennial Farm.