Hardworking, honest, passionate, generous, positive, present, a role model, friends, family and faith. These are all words from the top-10 list Amy Smith used to describe her father Jon Lang, the 2016 Illinois Country Living Father of the Year and Rock Energy Cooperative member.
“I’m flattered by this, but the biggest honor for me was to know my daughter thought enough of me to send in a nomination,” says Lang. “For those that didn’t get this ‘title,’ take the time to thank your kids because you did something right if your kids think enough of you to do that.”
Jon grew up in Beloit, Wisc. and was encouraged by his father, who was a firefighter, to become one as well. He always wanted to farm, like his uncle, but he lived in town and there wasn’t much land available. He didn’t really want to be a firefighter but took the exam and was hired by the Rockford Fire Department. Jon discovered he really did enjoy that line of work, but still wanted to farm. He helped his uncle on his hog farm, but it wasn’t the same as having his own.
He and his wife Jane looked all over Winnebago County for a farm but had no luck. They found a small house in the country that was surrounded by farmland and planned to move into it. On a whim, or maybe it was God’s timing, Jon stopped by the neighbor’s farm and told him he would be interested in buying the 20 acres surrounding the house if he ever decided to sell it.
As it turned out, the farmer knew Jon’s grandfather was thinking about retiring. A couple of days later he called Jon and offered to sell his entire farm, house and all. Jon and Jane bought the farm and moved in. With the help of his father, Jon was able to construct some new farm buildings and remodel others. Jon and Jane built a new house on the property and raised their two children, Amy and Michael, there. They named the farm, A.M. Farms, after them.
At the fire department, Jon worked 24 hours on, and 48 hours off, and in 1985, became a paramedic for the department. He came to the realization that he was serving as “God’s hands helping someone out of a bad situation. Sometimes I would be successful and save them and sometimes it was time for them to go to Him,” he says.
“To be able to hang my fire coat up at the end of a shift, and come back out here to the farm, I realized just how blessed I really was. It helped me keep things in proper perspective with the farm, and the life cycle of caring for crops and animals and nurturing them. It was a good balance. I tell people it helped me keep both of my oars in the water at the same time.”
During a fire department building inspection at the Rock River Valley Food Pantry, Jon was surprised to learn that an average of 7,000 people were served monthly by the pantry – most of them for the first time. He felt compelled to help.
“As a firefighter, helping people was the name of the game,” Jon remarks. “I saw so many people that weren’t nearly as blessed as I was to have a freezer and cupboards full of food.”
At that time, hog prices were very cheap, about 10 cents a pound, and Jon offered to give pork to the pantry rather than selling the hogs. During sweet corn season, when he has more than he can sell, he brings the extra to the pantry rather than throwing it to his hogs. Jon has since joined the pantry’s board of directors and feels fulfilled by helping those who have fallen on hard times.
When he began raising hogs, he had four sows and they farrowed twice a year. Now that he has retired, after 30 years on the Rockford Fire Department, the hog operation has expanded. He now has 45 sows and they farrow every two weeks. He has a partnership with Eickman’s Processing Co. in Seward, to provide them with hogs. He sits down with them once a year to look at the price of pork, agree on a price, and they settle that year’s contract with a handshake. Eickman’s likes the quality of the pork Jon provides, and has even won awards for the hams and bacon produced.
From the time they were each two years old, Amy and Michael followed Jon around on the farm. Michael still helps his father care for the animals, plant the corn, soybeans and wheat, and wants a farm of his own. Jon’s plan is for Michael to take over the farm once he decides to retire.
The next generation has also picked up that baton as Amy’s 19-month old son, Rutger, follows his grandfather around while doing chores or, better yet, riding on the tractor! Rutger has boots and a hat like grandpa’s, and beams when he sees Jon. The pride in Jon’s eyes is evident as well.
Jon admits to not always having his priorities straight, but believes the best gift Jane ever gave him was introducing him to the Lutheran faith. It took a large burden off of his shoulders and helped put things in proper balance – faith first, then family and friends.
“It works for everyone,” he explains. “But, it depends on what point you are in your life.”
There is a new Tim McGraw song, Humble and Kind, that Jon really enjoys. It has the line, “once you get where you are going, turn around and help the next one.” Jon says, “I really like that song, but my philosophy is to not wait until you get where you’re going. Turn around right now and help that person; they may need it now. If I’m so focused on where I want to go, I may miss an opportunity to help someone who needs it. Walk side by side with people; you never know when you will see God’s face and can take the opportunity to help out.”
To read Jon’s nomination letter, and all of those received, go to www.icl.coop/letters2016.
Jon Lang’s philosophy on having a happy, healthy soul?
Be a pig.
B Believe God loves you.
E Excellence Strive for excellence, not society’s excellence but being your best every day.
A Attitude The one thing you have control over is your attitude, and how you respond.
P Passion Have passion for what you do.
I Integrity Be a man of your word.
G Gratitude Be grateful for His many blessings.