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A good man

By Ken Root

He was a farmer, a father, a husband, a worker and a pretty good storyteller. My father-in-law, Delmar Klepper from Union City, Okla., died this week. He was 85. I have written several columns that were about him or generated by his actions. I had a somewhat adversarial relationship with him for 40 years, primarily because I married his daughter. He was never sure anyone was worthy of her, as I'm sure every father feels when another man comes into his little girl's life.

Delmar didn't have any distinguishing characteristics that stood him apart from his generation of World War II veterans. He came home to farm, raise a family and dedicate himself to being a provider and citizen of the small town in which he lived. He married a good woman, which seems to be the salvation of all of us. She had social skills and enforced a financial regimen that allowed them to farm through tough times and build assets in later years. It was that union of spirits, and strength of minds and bodies, that moved our country from a developing nation to the society we enjoy today.

My father-in-law was a German, which meant he was stubborn. He didn't like too much change too fast. He saw no need to modernize until he looked across the fence and noted that there was a wider planter or a newer tractor and then he'd think about it for a few years before he'd buy one. He was good with machinery and entertained himself by reading operators' manuals and parts books.

He had the strength of a bull and thought he'd always be as physically capable as when he was a young man. Farm work gave him pleasure but it didn't always bring in enough money to live. He began working "off farm" before it was fashionable. He sold heavy machinery to county highway departments for several years before he wound up in the federal reformatory in El Reno. (My only line that could get even with him was that one.) He became an employee of the federal government, working as a guard and counselor in the prison system. His adventures there were the most fascinating that he shared with family and friends as he hauled inmates across the country in armored buses before "Con-Air" began flying them. He was almost killed by an inmate who attacked him with an industrial broom, but brute strength, and God's hand, allowed him to overpower the man and call for help.

Like most World War II veterans, he rarely talked about the conflicts in which he was engaged. He was a teenager in the Pacific islands in the thick of combat but few were ever told much about it. Although you could tell it wasn't forgotten, the details went with him to his grave.

There were many good times with Delmar as he'd tell us stories of his misadventures in farming. He bought a new tractor after he turned 75 and was very proud of it. He should have read the operator's manual a little more thoroughly as he found himself unable to get out of the cab. Following several cell phone calls to his wife and a full hour of swearing (at which he was remarkably articulate) he found the latch that was concealed on the opposite side of a long bar across the door. Since he laughed at himself, we laughed at him.

Del was a good grandfather and his only compliment to me was that I was the father of those children. He gave my wife credit for most of their raising, which she deserved, but he had to admit that half of their genetics came from me.

In his retirement years, he established a pattern to each day that included two trips to the coffee shop to visit with his friends and at least two trips to the farm to check on his cattle. He toured the country roads at slow speed and observed everything that they neighbors were doing. When the gas and oil industry began drilling in the region, he would drive on the oil field roads that went into the farms. We told him those were not public roads but he just couldn't resist and no one shot out his windshield, so I guess it was OK.

I mentioned his wife, Annabelle, who made him look good for almost 70 years. She is a woman of strong character and strong Christian faith. She worried about his health from his first heart bypass surgery in the 1980s, through colon cancer almost 20 years ago to more arterial blockages and valve problems that she said "would have killed a normal person." Her love for him was deep and she would tell us he had no fear of life but he had great fear of death. He expressed a "near death" experience to the family after a bout of surgery that confirmed her view. Rather than let it go, she kept trying to ease him into acceptance of fate and hope of salvation. I wrote an article called "Old Blue" that was generated by her suggestion that he be buried in his pickup truck that was affectionately known as "Old Blue." She asked him what he'd like to take along for the afterlife and actually had him smiling as he named tools that would probably come in handy. She concluded with the argument that on judgment day, when heaven called, Delmar could put "Old Blue" in gear and be the first one there!

I never completely understood him but it really wasn't necessary to do so. He loved his family and he worked every day to provide for them. He was a good neighbor and friend and he was social with his stories to the point that there are a lot of folks who feel a loss as he is no longer there to tell them.

We will be hard pressed to have another generation of farmers and determined community members to replace Delmar and the thousands just like him across rural America. I am thankful that I knew him and, perhaps, emulate some of his qualities in my own life.

Editor's note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at kenroot@gmail.com.

Date: 3/4/2013

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