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Tom Heck: Farmer, husband, father, author

Staff Writer Jenna Hurty Published on 11 June 2014

In the fast-paced lifestyle of today’s society, it’s often easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of each day. Wisconsin dairy farmer Tom Heck uses stories from his personal life to remind people to cherish the small but important moments that happen every day.

They’re stories about his kids, his wife, the challenges they’ve faced and the good times they’ve had. It’s something everyone can relate to, whether they’re a fellow dairy farmer or not.

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Heck grew up on what was then a large dairy operation in Mondovi, Wisconsin. His family ran 70 head of Holstein dairy cattle and 80 head of youngstock on their 385-acre farm. He thoroughly enjoyed farming. It was here he discovered his true passion for it. His life, however, was not without its bumps and bruises.

In his junior year of high school, he attempted to commit suicide but was saved, thanks to a highly skilled surgeon and phenomenal medical staff. After that incident, Heck started searching for answers which he found through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Becoming a Christian turned his life around, and after graduating, he left for college in the Twin Cities.

During his first year there, he realized school was not for him. His heart was in farming, and he felt it would be better for him to return to his parents’ farm. However, his time at school was not without its memorable moments.

In his second semester at school, Heck took a writing class with a rather infamous professor. He was an excellent professor, but he was known for never giving students an A on anything. In fact, prior to Heck, he never had given a student an A.

The first assignment was to write on something from their memory: no research, no outside sources, just their thoughts. Their professor had a meeting on the day he returned their papers to them. He left their papers in the classroom for them to look over before he arrived. Other than Heck, no one was even close to happy with their grade.

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“The class was in an uproar before he got there because all the students had were D’s and F’s on their papers except one person, and that was me,” Heck said. “I had a straight A. I never knew I could write. Anyhow, I know it was a gift from God. But I had a straight A on the paper.

It was the first A he ever gave out. The other students were in an uproar, and they finally looked at me because I had my mouth shut. I didn’t know what to say. Finally, they asked what I got and I didn’t have the heart to tell them. I just handed them my paper.”

When the professor joined them, his fellow students wanted to know why Heck had received an A and they had not. To make them understand, he read Heck’s paper. As he read, the class went silent. Heck said later on the professor told him, “You are the most God-gifted writer I’ve ever seen in my life.” Heck left college after that class; he never graduated.

He had been home for a few years when he met and married his wife, Joanne. The two soon started a family. About a year and a half later, he and Joanne decided it was time to strike out on their own. After some searching and prayer, they found a farm and moved to Bloomer, Wisconsin.

Over the years, Tom and Joanne kept hearing stories of friends and neighbors who were getting divorced or were suicidal or whose children were into drugs or drinking. It made them sad to hear such stories. In the hopes of helping, Tom suggested that they start sharing stories from their farm. His family was shocked.

“My family looked at me like I was a nut because I had never told them about my writing professor in college,” Heck said. “Never had said a word about it.”

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Needless to say, they were pleasantly surprised to discover he was a wordsmith. His next step was to get his work published.

He was turned down by the first publication he approached, so he decided to try his local newspaper. Initially, the newspaper editor was not interested either. Heck asked that he at least read his stories before he made his final decision.

The editor agreed. No sooner had he finished reading than he jumped up and hurried across the office to the copy machine. He then turned to Heck and said, “Tom, I will print whatever you write.”

The stories were a hit. Today, they’re published in newspapers in 10 different states all across America. He even has readers in the U.S. as far out as Florida and Alaska, although he is not yet published in either of those states.

Many people tell him that after they moved, they have continued to get their town paper simply for his stories. He has readers outside of the U.S. too, receiving responses from people in Canada, Mexico and France.

Over the years, Heck amassed quite a number of stories. His readers started asking him when he was going to publish them in a book. Although not completely enchanted with the idea at first, he began to look into it. However, every publisher he contacted told him they wouldn’t publish him unless he had already published a book.

Consequently, he dropped the idea until late last fall, when he was approached by a professional proofreader who wanted to know if she could send his stories to the publisher she worked for. He thought it over for a little while and finally said yes.

Within 24 hours, the publisher contacted him to set up a time to meet with him and discuss his book. His first book will be published this year and is named after his long-standing column title – “Life on the Family Farm Under an Open Heaven.”

Presently, Heck still resides on the farm he and Joanne purchased more than 20 years ago. The farm is 159 acres and they run 35 head of crossbred dairy cattle and 35 head of youngstock on it with the help of their 23-year-old daughter, Catherine, and 21-year-old son, Joshua. Heck still loves farming. It is in his blood, and he plans to do it for the rest of his life.

Through it all, Heck’s mission has remained the same: to minister to his readers through life lessons he’s learned on his farm.

“What’s most important to me as a writer?” Heck said. “I would say it’s reaching out and seeking to bless people and teach them or show them by example how to be more blessed and how to bless their family. How to live better lives that bless their families and to glorify God.”

They’re stories and life lessons farmers can relate to, stories that give the general public a glimpse into a farmer’s life. His stories have been read in nursing homes, from pulpits or over a cup of coffee.

And now they will also be read in Progressive Dairyman . Beginning with this issue, an original Tom Heck column will appear in each Progressive Dairyman Quarterly edition. Click here to read Heck’s column about the little things that truly matter. PD

Jenna Hurty is a 2014 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

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