Tom and Mary Connolley have lived down the road from brothers Wayne and Bradley Beidel for many years and, over that time, the neighbors have developed a strong friendship.
"Wayne and Brad are the nicest people. I mean that," says Tom Connolley. "They put other people before themselves. We talk to them every day."
The Beidel's operate a dairy farm in Newburg, Pennsylvania, and are member-owners of Land O'Lakes, Inc. They have a strong passion for promoting and supporting the dairy industry and believe doing that starts with being a good neighbor.
So, when Tom's brother-in-law Roger Simmons passed away suddenly and Tom came to the Beidel's with an idea, they didn't hesitate to lend a hand. The tragedy had left the Connolley's and their family shocked and devastated and Tom wanted to bring his family together in memory of Roger.
"Roger and his wife Linda had always loved coming up to Pennsylvania. So we invited the whole family to come up to our place for a few days," says Tom.
Soon, relatives spanning multiple generations from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia were making the trek to the Connolley's to begin a memorable weekend.
As Tom looked for ways to fill out the weekend with activities, Wayne and Bradley opened their doors and offered a real-life modern ag experience.
This was a great opportunity because, while Tom and Mary may have lived next to the dairy for years, most of Tom's relatives had never stepped foot on a farm before. The family spent their days touring the entire farm, working in the milking parlor and learning how the milking operation works on a modern farm. Wayne and Bradley also took them by the newborn calves. The experience not only provided the Connolley family a chance to come together but also to experience every facet of a working dairy farm.
"We really didn't do much but open our doors. We really didn't go out of our way," says Wayne. "Honestly, Tom took over giving the tour. He's been out here so many times that he knows the farm by heart at this point."
Kids at heart
The weekend was a hit as the young kids enjoyed being outside exploring the barns and riding on the tractors. Some of the older kids went up in a combine and, after riding around, did not want to leave. They were able to help feed the calves in the newborn unit and explored the greenhouse.
"The most enjoyable part for the kids was feeding the calves for the first time. They were newborn calves just weaned off their mothers. It was so exciting. The adults wanted to do it too when the kids got done," says Tom.
And adults found plenty to do around the farm as well. From running around with the grandkids to walking through the maternity barn to working with the calves. The family spent days at the farm, going home to Tom's place to sleep then getting up and heading back to Wayne and Bradley's farm.
"One of my relatives just loves cows. I thought she was going to sleep in the Beidels' barn overnight," says Tom.
Involve your neighbors
While clearly not the primary purpose this experience, Wayne always stresses the importance of farmers sharing their story with the community. Sometimes, all it takes is opening your arms and barn doors. Being a good neighbor is part of that.
"We, in the dairy industry, hear about this all the time: that we really have to make an effort to get people to learn about dairy," says Wayne. "This tour was just part of that. We really didn't do much at all, and everybody seemed to have such a great time. Tom's the best neighbor you could ask for."
That weekend on the farm brought the Connolleys and their whole family together in a time of need. And, whether it was the kids or the adults, everyone was thankful for the time with each other and the chance to tour the farm and remember Roger together.
"It was really a wonderful family time for us. It was a good healing time," says Tom. "Of course, we didn't know what we were getting Wayne and Bradley roped into when we invited all those relatives to their farm. Now, my entire family wants to come every year."