Feb 21, 201310:52 AMBlaska's Bring It!
with David Blaska
So God made a farmer named Donnie Statz
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And took him home this week. His passing called me back to the old neighborhood yesterday, pushing reaction to Gov. Walker’s fine State of the State address last night to another day.
Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Church in Sun Prairie was packed to overflowing Wednesday for the funeral Mass of Donald Statz. Can there be a finer tribute? He was “Donnie” to everyone who knew him, and so many did, even if only slightly, as I did. (His younger brother Roger was closer in age.)
Donnie’s passing last Friday, Feb. 15 was so unexpected that his wife, Shirley, was planning to take him home that morning after rather routine surgery. It was just four days after announcing the Statz Brothers farm would host Farm Technology Days in 2015. That show, the family assures, will go on.
Their last words to each other in a telephone conversation were “I love you,” the mourners were told. After their marriage 50 years ago, Don and Shirley first lived upstairs in my grandma’s house, now surrounded by the Statz farms.
Every pew in the church was filled yesterday – about 500 I would judge – and more watched on the lower level via closed-circuit television. I told his brother and farm business partner Rich, “Sun Prairie is here.” He responded that all of Dane County showed up Tuesday during the visitation – 1,500 in all. That included Gov. Tommy Thompson, who cherished the support of the Statz family all these years.
“Life goes on,” Rich said.
Donnie’s son Joe and his three sisters stood next to the bier as Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” played on the church sound system. You may have heard that touching oration during the Super Bowl. Most touching was the end, where Paul Harvey has the son wanting to follow his father’s demanding lifestyle, as Joe has.
It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight – and not cut corners. Somebody to seed and weed, feed and breed – and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk. Somebody to replenish the self-feeder and then finish a hard day’s work with a five-mile drive to church. Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who’d laugh and then sigh and then respond with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life “doing what dad does.” So, God made a farmer.
That was Donnie Statz, who somehow found time to set up Christmas at the church, serve on the parish board, and host fundraisers for Scott Walker. As eloquent as Mr. Harvey was, I have not read a finer tribute from son to father than Joe’s remarks to the Wisconsin State Journal: “He taught me how to be a good dad, he taught me how to be a good person, he taught me how to be a good manager on the farm, he taught me how to get along with people, he taught me what love is all about, how to keep your marriage together. And he taught us a lot about family,” he said. “Family was very important to him.”
And community. An aerial photo of the Statz farms was placed inside the coffin lid so Donnie could gaze at his family and life’s work in the hereafter. Outside, a bright red Case-I.H. tractor, distinctive with rubber tank-like treads at all four corners (to reduce soil compaction), led the funeral procession east to the Statz Farms – so Donnie could have one more look at the land and Holstein cows he loved – before circling back to Sacred Hearts Cemetery, just north of the church on Columbus Street.
Three priests conducted the funeral Mass, an unusual honor, led by Monsignor Duane Moellenberndt. Father M. reminded us of Donnie’s standard greeting to one and all: “Hi, hi, hi!” Donnie was also a fan of The Lawrence Welk Show.