I’m not gonna lie: The first time I met Ernie Aegerter at the Columbiana County Fair, he scared me.
Well, maybe he didn’t scare me (OK, yes, he did), as much as intimidate me. After all, I’m guessing I was probably all of 25 years old, and here was this beefy guy, with a full dark beard — before beards were a thing — and piercing eyes.
Turns out, the dairyman was only 10 years older than I was, and, after I got to know him, he was no longer scary. Perhaps still a little intimidating (to me), but not scary. And those eyes could also twinkle with laughter.
He loved his cows, he loved the farming community (and helped many a young, and old, dairyman with his advice), and he loved the county fair.
Ernie’s been gone for 12 years, but I still find myself looking for him at the fair. This year, I’ll find him in a place of honor at the Columbiana County Fairgrounds: on the Agricultural Hall of Fame wall in the Arts & Crafts Building.
He’s one of three people being inducted Aug. 1, the fair’s opening day, honored posthumously for their agricultural and community leadership. Rounding out the class are Frank Murray, of Center Township; and Isaac “Ike” Skeels, of Salem Township.
Even though all three of these gentlemen were busy on their own farms, they each gave huge chunks of their time and leadership to the development of their ag and civic communities. They realized life is more than what you raise or produce on your farm, or what you do on the job. It takes a village to raise, well, a village.
Ashtabula County Extension Educator David Marrison wrote about the need for leadership in a really great Dairy Excel column last week. “Bottom line,” Marrison said, “leadership begins with each of us.”
In other words, we need more willingness and less indifference. More mentorship and less whining about millennials. More volunteers and fewer “too busy to help” excuses. More engagement and less isolation.
It’s not always being at the head of the pack. Sometimes, it’s lingering at the back to reach out a hand to those who think they can’t make it. Or cultivating confidence and leadership in someone else.
The hall of fame nomination packet for Frank Murray included a penciled note of support. “I first got to know Frank Murray when I was about 10 years old. He knew my parents, and asked them if I could run his truck while he picked up bales of hay out of the field. He showed me how to drive it and that started a friendship that lasted for a lot of years.”
That individual action may not be a true definition of leadership, but it is an example of how our actions can shape how our community will look in the future. Murray cared, and this young man, now in his 70s, was forever changed.
Each summer as I review the hall of fame applications, I’m reminded of the impact a single life can make. Even if at first I think he’s scary.