From soldier to fifth-generation farmer

Jeremy Rutledge wraps up harvesting a McDonough County cornfield east of Macomb, Illinois, on Oct. 18. Rutledge, a fifth-generation farmer, served for 14 years in the U.S. Army before returning to the family farm.

ADAIR, Ill. — Jeremy Rutledge is proud of his service to his country, he’s proud of returning to the family farm, but what he’s most proud of is being a father and husband.

Rutledge, a fifth-generation farmer, served for 14 years in the U.S. Army, before returning to farm with his father, Craig. They grow corn and soybeans across just under 3,000 acres.

He joined the Army on his 18th birthday in 1999 for a couple of reasons.

“One, I had two or three buddies that just said, ‘let’s do this,’ so I did. Two, I just wanted go do something else. I was kind of done with the small-town living. I thought it was time for me to go and figure something else out on my own,” he said.

During his time in the service, Rutledge was based in California, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Germany and twice in Iraq. He was a staff sergeant (E-6) when he was discharged about 11 years ago.

“I was in the artillery and a sniper. When I was in Iraq I did combat patrols. I think I was there for a total of 30 months over two different tours. I got to jump out of helicopters,” he said.

“Everybody handles the war situation different. I handled it very, very well. I went in with the knowledge of what war was. You’re going to do and see things that aren’t good. There’s no good way to put it. Bad things are going to happen and what I did was way more intense than some and not as intense as others.

“I knew what I was getting into. I wanted to do that. I volunteered to do that and I wasn’t going to let it effect me later in life. Not everybody that I was with ended that way. I’ve got four or five guys who are close friends who now have PTSD and everything else from things that we did.

“I don’t want my kids to do that. I’m not going to stop them from serving, but I’d prefer that they look at is as, daddy did it, so they don’t have to.

“I got to do a lot of things that I don’t care that my kids get to do, but I wouldn’t change what I did for anything. It got me out of the kids’ stage of causing trouble and being ‘oh, my gosh, what’s that kid going to amount to’ to where I am now because I learned a lot of lessons very quick while I was in the service.

“I spent enough time there, made enough rank. I learned how to be a boss, I suppose I’d say. I was in charge of up to 80 people at times. That stuff was invaluable to me.”

Children’s Pride

He and his wife, Lauran, have four children, Kenna, 7; Sterling, 6; Robert Lyndon, 5; and Nolyn, 2.

For a long time, Rutledge wanted to put his service in the past and wouldn’t normally have agreed to do this interview, but that changed when he became a father.

“I didn’t do it for thank-yous. I did it because it’s what I needed to do in my life,” he said. “I have kids who are very proud and excited to tell people. They have school events that I used to skip. I was too busy. I didn’t want to go do that.

“But now I go, and I don’t like it, standing up in front of everybody and all that, but my kids get excited about that. For them, I’m willing to be more outspoken I guess about being in the service.

Being a husband and father is at the top of the list of things Jeremy Rutledge is most proud of in his life. Jeremey and his wife, Lauran, have four children, Kenna, 7; Sterling, 6; Robert Lyndon, 5; and Nolyn, 2.

“For a long time, I didn’t want them to know. When I first got married I told my wife, no military stuff sitting around. I don’t want them to know I even did it. I didn’t expect them to be this excited.

“I didn’t know that one day they’d be excited to tell random strangers that their dad was in the Army, but that’s how it works and it’s fine.

“I was never not proud of it, but they make me prouder about myself and what I did than before I became a father.”

Farm Life

Rutledge and his father operate the family farm, assisted by “hired hands” Randy Hayes and Michael Yazvec.

“They’ve been with my dad for 15 years. They’ve been very, very good to my dad,” Rutledge said.

Beyond growing corn and soybeans with his father, he and his family have a variety of livestock.

“We raise fat cattle, my wife and I raise goats, the kids have chickens. We raise hogs once and while. Everything we raise we eat, so it’s worked out real nice,” Rutledge said.

“I really am proud that my kids are learning hard work and raising their own beef, raising their own hogs — things like that are pretty self-gratifying.

“When we sit down and eat our 7-year-old says, ‘we raised this,’ that kind of makes you feel good. A lot of people don’t understand that. We will some day have to teach our kids not to take it for granted when they get older and just assume this is how everything goes.”

Another favorite part of being back on the family farm is that Rutledge is a fifth-generation farmer.

“Being a fifth-generation farmer is kind of a big deal. You don’t get that very often. Usually by the time it gets to the third or fourth generation, things are getting sold and people are doing their own thing. A lot of my dad’s generation, when they retire they’re giving to their kids who plan on selling it,” he noted.

“Farming with my dad is nice. My grandparents have since passed away, but it was a very big deal for them for me to come home and start farming.

“I think my mom said every week before by grandma died she’d tell my mom it’s always nice to see my pickup out at the family farm. For all those years in the service, they never knew where I was. If I didn’t talk to them for months, they didn’t know where I was actually at.”

Seed Sales

Rutledge added another title after returning to the family farm — Wyffels seed representative.

It started when District Sales Manager Dan Buchen stopped by the farm to sell Rutledge’s dad some seed.

“I was there cleaning the combine. He saw I was a young kid and in his conversation he asked if I wanted to sell seed. I didn’t know anything about Wyffels. I didn’t know anything about selling seed. I hadn’t been back home on the farm for very long. It might have been my second year back,” Rutledge said.

“I did some research. Wyffels is a family-owned business that basically represents about everything a family farm would want. It’s generational just like our family farm. We’re 100% Wyffels products. We have been for years and it’s the been the best crop we’ve raised since we started doing that.

“It’s hard to beat the pricing, the yields. The product just sells itself. They’ve expanded their portfolio. It’s been neat to see the growth.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor