Written by Cheryl Broetje, President and Co-Founder
On Tuesday, May 4, friends, family, and co-workers gathered in the Leo Center auditorium, amidst flags and flowers, and a playlist of Joe’s favorite music coordinated by his son Cody Shelton, for the announcement of the second annual Joe D. Shelton Memorial Award. Suzanne Broetje, Joe’s niece and our BFT board chair, facilitated the gathering around the theme “You are not alone”. It was a moving and beautiful celebration, made even more meaningful for those in attendance, since Joe’s death came during the initial surge of Covid-19 and funerals were not allowed. Joe was a master farmer, who loved the people he served with, and the land they tended so well together, which in return took such good care of us. It is the fruit of that love that fuels the work of Broetje Family Trust today.
Several speakers were present for this event. The 2021 award recipient, Don McMoran from WSU Extension reported on the work he and his team are doing to make mental health resources available to farm communities under stress here in the U.S. (farmstress.us). Terry Shelton, Joe’s brother, introduced Don and presented him an award for his dedication to the health of farmers and families.
Alan Shiffer attended on behalf of World Vision to receive the 2022 Joe D. Shelton Memorial Award. This year, Joe’s family recommended the selection committee to direct the entire $100,000 to stand with the noble, suffering people of Ukraine as they too are doing everything they can to protect the country, the land and the life they love. Carli Shelton, Joe’s daughter, presented this award to World Vision.
Also present, was Ajit Justus, who managed a partnership between Broetje Family Trust and World Vision over a 15-year period, this year marking the 15th and final completion year of the project. The Vidarbha project focused on rural farm families in the Vidarbha region of India. In these villages, the suicide rate had become a growing epidemic for cause of death among small operation farmers who must take crippling loans that come with huge interest rates to grow their crops each year.
Often, the farmers in Vidarbha find themselves unable to pay back their loans. In desperation, they increasingly began to quietly drink the pesticides they were forced to buy to get the loan in the first place, praying that in their death, the families they leave behind will be excused from the debt. However, that is usually not the case. When a farmer dies, it is not only an economic loss. Families often lose their connection to their land, their communities, extended families and friends as well. As lifelong farmers we too understand the stress of farm life. Over the years, we have been overjoyed to hear that the near zero percent of new suicides in the villages served has remained steady as a result of this life-giving partnership that has blessed and inspired us all. Ralph and I presented the award to Ajit on behalf of World Vision with our deep gratitude for their partnership in the service of mental wellbeing within farmworker communities.
On behalf of Broetje Family Trust, we want to especially thank Melissa and Josh Wisner for the video footage and interviews they took of Joe several years ago, which were recently discovered again! Although there were many tears, it was Joe’s giggle that guests took home with them as he spoke so passionately, with such a simple but deep eloquence about the people and the place he loved. Broetje Family Trust would also like to thank our terrific hospitality and welcome team, our communications team and volunteers for their attention to detail and the warmth of their welcome to all who came.