March 1 2024 09:06 AM

Farming brings special people into our lives, and some of these lifelong friends are hard to say goodbye to.

As a farm kid, you collect a variety of friends. From your typical friends at school and the neighbor kids who ride your bus to the less obvious seed salesmen, cooperative field representatives, and milk haulers, friends can range in interests and maturity levels and span across multiple generations.

Over the years of growing up on the farm, coming back to visit during my college years, and now as an employee of our family dairy operation, I’ve encountered many wonderful people. One of my all-time favorite visitors to our farm was Lowell Corlett, our long-time milk hauler. Lowell watched me grow up from a baby to a college student and was even invited to my wedding. He visited our farm daily in the morning hours to pick up milk and was always up for a conversation.

I most fondly remember riding bikes up to the milking parlor with my visiting cousins during summer vacation to say “hi” to Lowell and get a sucker. (He always kept a big plastic jar of suckers to pass out to all the farm kids on his route.) As a fellow animal lover, he also took care of our farm dogs over the years with plenty of ear scratches, a few drops of spilled milk, and treats he kept in his truck.

During my senior year of high school, I did an individual capstone project to investigate a career in agricultural communications. My project included an internship with the communications manager at Swiss Valley Farms. As part of my project, I wrote a series of short articles for the cooperative’s member magazine — one of which was about my favorite milk hauler, Lowell. Little did I know how touched he would be by the article, which he expressed then and in the years that followed.

At my graduation, Lowell even shared with me a tattered, folded up letter I had written him when I was much younger that he had kept in his truck since I gave it to him. The contents of the letter weren’t at all riveting (they were misspelled ramblings of a dog and cat-obsessed elementary student, after all), but the fact that he kept it for so long meant a lot to me.

Two weeks ago, I was extremely saddened to hear that my friend passed away. As I attended his visitation with my mom and daughter, I was reminded of all the many ways he touched people’s lives. While many remember him as a veteran, volunteer firefighter, or blood relative, I remember him as a beloved member of our farming family. He was more than a milk hauler to us; he was a dear friend.

To those of you who visit dairy farms as part of your job, keep in mind that you may very well end up in a special place within a little farm kid’s heart. It takes more than good workers and hired professionals to run a successful farm — it takes a chosen family of dedicated people who care as much as you do about the animals and our products. Lowell was one of those very special people, and he will be forever missed.

Molly Ihde (Schmitt)

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.