Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine, and not because it's become a day of feasting and football. It's because Thanksgiving usually comes with little hype, a mere respite between Halloween and Christmas. A time for us to reflect on all that we are to be thankful for, before we are hit with the deluge of the gluttony that has become Christmas.
I think it's wise to pause a little longer during this Thanksgiving. Though it's been a hell of a year and our gatherings on Thursday may be smaller than we have grown accustomed to due to a reemergence of fear caused by COVID-19, I think we still have a lot for which to be thankful.
I don't need to remind you of all that has gone wrong this year due to COVID-19, but I urge you to find what you are thankful for, the reasons to keep getting up every morning.
I am thankful that my loved ones have either dodged or recovered from COVID's grip.
In my work, a number of people cross my path, and each year brings some new acquaintances while getting to know others better.
Relating the news and developments of the swine industry are always interesting, but it's the stories of the people of the swine industry that I find most intriguing. Every year National Hog Farmer has brought you a new class of Masters of the Pork Industry, a special hand-picked group of pork industry visionaries who have left a tremendous footprint on the industry.
This past May, due to various obstacles brought on by COVID-19, we brought you a smaller than usual class of Masters, but still a solid representation of the industry.
It seems silly to say that we "introduced" our readers to Everett Forkner, Gordon Spronk and Bob Goodband, because you already know of these three men if you know anything about the North American swine industry. These men, each in their own way have brought a lot to the swine industry, and we should all be thankful for their dedication and advancements that they have brought to the industry to make it better and progressive.
Ann Hess and I divide and conquer these such projects, and I had the pleasure of interviewing Gordon Spronk, veterinarian who helped the formation of Pipestone Veterinary Services and Pipestone System. I had met Spronk and heard him present at a number of conferences — Allen D. Leman Swine Conference, Minnesota Pork Congress, National Pork Industry Forum — but until you get to do these one-on-one interviews you really don't know a person.
What Spronk and the Pipestone System have brought to the swine industry have been documented, but I sought to get beyond Gordon Spronk the veterinarian and into Gordon Spronk the man. I knew that he had been hurt and suffered loss, and I knew that he had a skeleton in his past. I like telling people's stories, but I do not like digging up past transgressions. But to tell the whole story, those skeletons have to be dug up.
I hemmed and hawed around asking Spronk about what makes him a self-labeled "sinner." Sensing my discomfort, Spronk matter-of-factly cut the tension, "I'm a convicted felon." From there we moved on as he explained what he had done back in 1998, which by today's standards would have resulted in a proverbial slap on the wrist.
Spronk also spoke eloquently about the loss that he suffered, that his wife, Deb, and two others were killed in a May 2017 accident in the Czech Republic. Since her passing, Spronk has learned a lot about life and death, and how to deal with death, especially the death of a spouse which he has learned is the most dangerous. "You've lost half of yourself. Another way to say it, especially for men, you lose your target. For me, when I got up every morning, I went to work for Deb. All day I worked hard, for Deb. Every day I went to work hard for Deb. I came home every day to see Deb."
We all have a target that makes us get up every day to go to work. Sometimes the true target gets blurred by what the world tells should be the target. It is up to you to find or determine what your target is, and this COVID-19 disrupted year, it may be more important than ever to remember the true target in your life.
As the annual class of Masters looks at people who have made an impact on today's swine industry, National Hog Farmer has started to recognize the next crop, Rising Stars if you will, of individuals who will do great things for the industry.
This past August the latest class of Rising Stars — Tre' Smith, Corey Carpenter, Allison Blomme, Amy Petry and Giovani Trevisan — were featured in our magazine, showing the great promise of the youth movement in the pork world.
I am thankful that these five, and many others like them, have decided to make a life in the swine industry.
Between the trails that have been blazoned by Spronk, Goodband, Forkner and many others before them, and those who will follow like Smith, Carpenter, Blomme, Petry and Trevisan, the U.S. and global swine industries are in fine hands.
Masters and Rising Stars will come and go, and in years like we are enduring in 2020, we need find those within and around us that keep us going to work toward the individual and collective target. Even in bad times, we have so much for which to be grateful.
I found a meme on Facebook with an unattributed "Best quote for 2020."
This is not the year to get everything you want. This is the year to appreciate everything you have.
And there it is. Appreciate all that you have, and be thankful for it all. Because you never know when it will be gone, and sometimes you never get a chance to say goodbye.