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Committed to a cause

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:07pm

On a cold February morning in 1989, Sandi Cihlar, a 39-year-old Wisconsin mother of three was cleaning calf pens when she felt chest pains. They didn't subside after she went into the house.

She didn't mention it to her husband, Dennis. But she described her symptoms when she arrived at her part-time job at a medical clinic. As a precaution, she was given an electrocardiogram. The results were abnormal and after further tests, she had double bypass heart surgery.

This life-threatening blockage became a life-changing catalyst. "From that day, when I debated getting involved, I'd ask, 'What's the worst that can happen?' " she says. "I decided if there was something I wanted to do, I should get on with it."

And so she did. Cihlar, now 59, has lived a life of passion and commitment. From the milk house to the statehouse, she's worked tirelessly to improve farm safety and health.

As a young mother in the early 1980s, she had faced the challenges of raising three sons safely on the family dairy farm near Mosinee. "It started with keeping my boys safe," she says. "I couldn't accept injuries as just a part of farming. Our kids' safety has to be our bottom line."

In 1990, she was persuaded to apply for the 1990 Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program (WRLP).

"I'm an inherently shy person," she says. "I never felt I had enough information to be comfortable as a spokesperson. I found out I didn't need to have all the answers. But I learned to ask the right questions."

Cihlar later served on the WRLP Board. In 2002, she was honored with an Outstanding Alumni Award.

In 1991, she worked with the 4-H county agent and the National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield to host the first 4 Safe Kids Day Camp in Marathon County at their farm.

"Parents love their kids," she says. "But they've lived with farm risks for so long, they can't see them."

That partnership carved a role for Cihlar in a series of committees and conferences organized by Marshfield's National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. In 1998, she helped draft the Center's landmark North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks.

"Gaining the leadership and resources of the Center was a huge boost for farm safety," she says.

A few years later, the Cihlars' machine shop was the site of the first tractor safety certification program in the county. She spoke in support of a 1996 law requiring youth under age 16 to complete training before operating farm equipment on roads.

On a cold February morning in 1989, Sandi Cihlar, a 39-year-old Wisconsin mother of three was cleaning calf pens when she felt chest pains. They didn't subside after she went into the house.

During her 26 years of work at medical clinics, she saw an urgent need for farmers' health services.

Melissa Duffy, executive director of the Farmers Health Cooperative, has worked closely with Cihlar.

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