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Patrick Springer, Published July 22 2012

Neighbors, friends help Hillsboro family harvest fields after man’s unexpected death

HILLSBORO, N.D. – Leon Bertsch injured his Achilles heel while playing kickball last month during the Hillsboro Days celebration.

While recuperating from surgery at home, the 53-year-old died unexpectedly July 9.

He left behind two grown children – and 500 acres of ripening barley ready to be harvested.

Neighbors, lots of neighbors, stepped in Sunday with a caravan of combines and grain trucks that made quick work of Bertsch’s barley.

“Leon was just really well liked,” said Dale Riemer, one of the small army of neighboring farmers who turned out in the sweltering heat to harvest Bertsch’s barley. “If we needed 50 trucks we could have ’em in a heartbeat.”

More than a dozen combines, and an even larger fleet of grain trucks, turned out to harvest the barley, roughly two weeks earlier than normal.

Bertsch, who also had a trucking business, enjoyed riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and was known as a devoted owner of Ford trucks.

“Great guy, good to work with,” said Ken Svaleson, a hired hand on the Bertsch farm. “This is beautiful,” he added, gesturing to the combines and trucks working on the harvest.

Jon Bertsch, Leon’s 25-year-old son, said the family is grateful for the support provided by friends and neighbors.

“Breathtaking is one word,” he said. “It’s overwhelming, all the help and generosity. It’s more than just combining today. It’s people coming together and farmers coming together to show how much they cared about my dad.”

Leon Bertsch, the youngest of four siblings, and one of two who took up farming, was not one to sit on the sidelines, his son said.

“He was never going to wait until tomorrow,” he said. The message he gave to his children through the way he lived his life was: “Don’t wait to have fun. Don’t wait to work hard.”

A computer network administrator in Fargo, Jon Bertsch said he and his sister, Allison, will decide what to do with their father’s farm.

“My sister and I are not making any quick decisions and are certainly thinking it through and trying to ask ourselves what our dad would do in this situation,” he said.

His father had encouraged him to study computers. “My dad always told me there’s lots of technology in farming,” Jon Bertsch said.

The farm was started by his grandfather, Otto Bertsch, who now lives in Fargo.

Pat Bertsch, Leon’s sister, was surprised by how many neighbors came to help with the barley harvest.

“I’ve never been a part of anything like this before,” she said. “Isn’t it amazing?”

Jason Lovas, another of the neighboring farmers who turned out to help, said the turnout was a testament to what people thought about Bertsch.

“Leon was an awfully good neighbor and farmer,” he said. “Everyone was eager to come out and help.”

Later, when the corn and soybeans are ready for harvest, they’ll be back.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522