WOOSTER, Ohio — From the time he was a boy, until his untimely death, Rhett Acker, 32, had a love for growing things.
It started with a garden that he planted at his family’s dairy farm south of Wooster. He grew all kinds of vegetables, designed his own irrigation system, and won awards at the county fair. As a seventh-grader, he completed a science project by growing hydroponic tomatoes.
Growing up on a dairy farm, he also helped with the field crops, especially haymaking. Later on, Rhett and his wife, Lisa, operated a commercial hay business, selling square bales across northeast Ohio.
Tragedy struck Oct. 20, after he fell while climbing the ladder of a silo and died from injuries sustained in the fall. Maybe his story would end there, as just another tragic loss, but Acker also grew relationships that went beyond his own farm — especially with children.
Acker and his wife, Lisa, had already taken their five-month-old daughter, Leah Faye, to five different fairs, including his favorite, the Wayne County Fair.
He taught Sunday school and junior worship school at his local church, the Ripley Church of Christ. And he taught children about livestock and crop farming through the Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Class program.
“He loved kids from the start,” said Max Acker, Rhett’s father.
In addition to his father and wife, Acker is survived by his mother, Deborah, and his sisters, Ara Tabor, and Julia Glass, as well as his father and mother-in-law, William E. and Lakalynn Bridenstine Arnold, of Orrville.
Lisa, who he married Valentine’s Day 2015, said Rhett enjoyed teaching young people about God and agriculture, and being a mentor.
“He got them out of their shell,” she said. “There wasn’t a person he couldn’t talk with or find common interest.”
About four years ago, when the family was having a new hay barn built, Lisa said a 10-year-old boy, Louis Czibor, showed up to the farm, and wanted to help the construction crew dig holes.
Rhett and Lisa didn’t know him at the time, but they let him help. And the boy, who lived five houses away, came back time and time again, to help do other chores on the farm.
“Rhett treated Louis as his own son,” Lisa said.
Instead of money, Acker paid Louis with animals to take to the Wayne County Fair. Now a freshman, Louis still shows at the fair, and continues to help on the farm, alongside another farmhand, Gabe Armstrong, a student at the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster.
Acker was a 4-H adviser, and had served as a board member for the Wayne County Farm Bureau.
”He was a perfectionist and very liked among a lot of folks,” said Roger Baker, a family friend and Ohio Farm Bureau trustee. “He’s just the kind of young man that agriculture champions.”
Man of faith
Baker said Acker lived out his faith, and his belief in family values.
“He’s a 32-year-old man that had the faith of somebody a lot older than him,” said Baker. “He loved his wife dearly. He was just so proud of her and loved her to no end.”
Mark Imhoff, a veterinarian from Apple Creek, said Rhett was his best friend. The two graduated from Triway High School in 2003, and then from Ohio State University. Even though Mark didn’t grow up on a farm, he said his friendship with Acker influenced his decision to become a veterinarian.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm or anything, but I grew up around Rhett,” said Mark, adding that Rhett was also the best man in Mark’s wedding.
Nick Baker, a cousin of Rhett’s and a neighboring farmer and construction worker, said the two often shared resources and land.
“Anytime you shook hands with Rhett on any type of deal, you could count on it being done,” Nick Baker said.
Josh Keplar, another classmate and local farmer, worked on the Acker farm through high school.
Doing things right
Keplar said Rhett was a perfectionist, who studied how to do things right — and then shared his knowledge with others.
What he valued most was how Rhett took younger people “under his wing,” and made a life-changing difference.
Keplar said he couldn’t have been happier for Rhett when he married Lisa, and when they had a child of their own.
“The one thing he always wanted in life was a family,” Keplar said. “I’m so glad he got to enjoy it for a while.”
Max Acker said friends and neighbors have been very supportive, and continue to offer help. In addition to crops, the Ackers care for about 100 head of goats, and also have cattle that they fatten out.
Services were held Sunday and Monday.
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