October 14, 2008

Positivity: Update — Cattle Farmers Leave Millions Behind

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 11:05 am

Updating what was noted in a Positivity post in January, Readers Digest recently published an article about Ish and Arlene Hatch (a related slideshow starts here; HT NixGuy in an e-mail):

Frugal Farmers Ish and Arlene Hatch left behind a secret fortune and enriched their community forever.

A year ago August, Dave Fuss lost his job driving a dump truck for a small excavation company in west Michigan. Dave and his wife, Gerrie, lived in Alto-a small community (population: 8,694) only 20 miles outside Grand Rapids that even now is more small town than suburb.

Gerrie was still working in the local grade school cafeteria, but work for Dave was scarce, and the price of everything was rising. The Fusses were at risk of joining the millions of Americans who have lost their homes in recent years. Then Dave and Gerrie received a timely gift–$7,000, a legacy from their neighbors Ish and Arlene Hatch. “It really made a difference when we were going under financially,” says Dave.

Dave had plowed the Hatches’ driveway in the winter and in the summer sat listening to Ish’s stories about farming in the old days; still, he had no reason to expect that the Hatches would leave him or Gerrie anything but memories after they died. But the Fusses weren’t the only folks in Alto and the neighboring town of Lowell to receive unexpected bequests from the Hatches. There were the Van Weeldens, the Vander Ziels, Jim and Norma Peterson, Dave Fuss’s parents, Paul and Lois, and his brother Jerry–dozens of families were touched by the Hatches’ generosity. In some cases, it was a few thousand dollars; in others, it was more than $100,000.

It surprised nearly everyone that the Hatches had so much money, more than $3 million-they were an elderly couple who lived in an old house on what was left of the family farm–but no one was surprised by what they did with it. “Money isn’t what drove Ish and Arlene,” says their friend Steve Vander Ziel, who spent many evenings with his wife, Joan, chatting with the Hatches on their back porch. “This is small-town America, neighbors helping neighbors.”

Neighbors helping neighbors-that was Ish and Arlene Hatch’s story, in death as in life.

For years after he retired from raising polled Herefords-beef cattle-on his farm in Lowell, Willis “Ish” Hatch spent the harvest riding alongside Steve Vander Ziel in the cab of his combine. They might talk about world events or the price of grain, but often they talked about their town-about families stretching to make house payments or meet medical bills, pay for college, or simply buy groceries. At sundown, Ish would clamber down from the combine and walk back home, full of neighborhood news for his wife, Arlene.

Arlene had deep roots in Kent County, Michigan. Her father, Allen Behler, once owned the same land Ish Hatch later farmed. Allen bought and sold property in town, owned the stockyards, and served as justice of the peace. “You know, it was an age in which people were kinda like entrepreneurs,” says Arlene Hatch’s 67-year-old niece, Quenda Story, remembering her grandfather. “He did everything.”

Ish, by contrast, was something of a newcomer to the area. A veteran of World War II, he was still living with his parents in Macy, Indiana, when he first encountered Arlene, who was teaching school there. “He grew up in hard times,” says Quenda. “The whole family worked as farmhands, and there wasn’t enough food.” Ish would later marvel in his letters home during the war at the abundance of food in Army mess halls.

Ish met Arlene on a blind date that almost ended before it began. A violent storm kicked up the night they were to meet, and Ish, watching the rain lash against the window and the trees bend in the wind, told his sister, “I’m not going.”

“You are going,” his sister replied, and she sent him on his way.

Ish never regretted it. Nearly six decades later, Ish and Arlene still held hands wherever they went. …..

Go here for the rest of the story.

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