The Corwin Story

“…we boarded the bus early every morning and spent our days walking the rows, braving heat, humidity, and occasional rainy days and mud. Cancellations were cheered, though rare; Corwin’s definition of “rain” was different from mine!”

– A Few More Miles:  Seed Development

All of us whined about Corwin. One particularly rainy day, the bus ride’s buzz was that that day’s detasseling effort would definitely be cancelled. Gray skies showed no indication of clearing. It rained on and off the entire ride. The cornfield would be a muddy mess.

By the time we arrived, Corwin had already assessed conditions; he assured us the field was, though “perhaps a bit damp”, certainly walkable. Also, he cheerfully noted that the rain was not expected to last all day. We dejectedly readied ourselves for the day’s work and watched Corwin prepare for his own field investigation of crop status. After donning heavy-duty rain boots, rain pants, and hooded raincoat suitable for Niagara Falls, he disappeared into the corn just like Shoeless Joe Jackson in the iconic movie filmed in nearby Dyersville. His mild admonitions that the field was “a bit damp” and that “the rain was not expected to last” contradicted his own preparations. That’s how I remember his actions that day, and how I described them to Dad that evening.

At his going-away party before starting a new job in Wisconsin, Dad told “the Corwin story.” (I suspect Corwin laughed the loudest.) Dad claimed his son would always remember it, and he was right.

My friends and I viewed Corwin as a crusty old farmer, stingy and ornery, a stern taskmaster. I realize now, though, that he calculated many things beyond that day’s weather and teenage opinions: the long-range forecast, fields and amounts of acreage still needing attention, remaining days before pollination, and the fact that nature moves on its own schedule, whether fields are ready or not.

I also learned about Corwin the person, not the caricature: married to Thelma for 68 years, four children, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. A lifelong farmer, an active member of many agricultural organizations, and active on church committees to top it off. Not bad for the crusty old farmer – though for the record, I no longer use “crusty” when describing a spry young man of 60!

Relationships matter. That is why we make the effort at my company to know each other beyond our roles and job descriptions. We are chefs & gardeners, athletes & outdoorsmen, dog lovers & horse whisperers; more significantly, we are spouses & children, parents & friends. We are a community of individuals with a common understanding of deeply-held values: We take care of people … We do what makes sense … We do the right thing.

Our culture provides an empathetic reserve to draw upon for rainy days, metaphorical and literal: a work plan goes askew; a new task is assigned at an inopportune moment; feedback seems harsh and unnecessary. Understanding and knowing each other as individuals helps smooth over the rough spots, if only by recognizing that these pressures result from the need to perform complex assignments within tightly defined schedules and budget limits. Much like Corwin responded to nature’s demands and impacts on the corn crop, in our work we respond to design and construction demands to fulfill clients’ expectations.

Simply put, doing what makes sense and doing the right thing is hard work. They are, though, the essential building blocks of taking care of people. It’s what we do.

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