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Turning a Farmer’s Diagnosis into a Celebration

In the spring of 2016, Paul Gieselman was gearing up for planting season just as he had been doing for the past 20 years. However, on April 8, his life was turned upside down.   

Gieselman, a husband and father of three, was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma-right before planting season. Two weeks later, he started chemotherapy treatment in Rochester, Minnesota, a 10-hour round trip from his home near Morning Sun, Iowa.

“We farm 700 acres, custom-harvest 350 acres in the fall, grow specialty crops, and have a small cow-calf herd, so we keep pretty busy,” says Gieselman. “I went two days every month for chemo treatments for six months, so it really put me out of commission.”

Paul’s father, Wayne Gieselman, alongside his neighbor, Clint Walker, was able to put in the crop while Gieselman took treatments. However, that was only the beginning of the help the Gieselmans received.

Lifelong friends of the family and close neighbors Jarett and Melissa Ball decided to throw a benefit for Gieselman and his family, hoping to raise some money for the family’s transportation, medical, and other costs not covered by insurance.

“Paul’s about five years older than me, but we grew up going to school together, and he’s someone that I’ve always looked up to,” says Jarett Ball. “The family is very involved in the community and they’re just good people.” Gieselman serves as the beef superintendent for the Louisa County Fair, chair of the Iowa State University Extension Council, a member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, is active in the Iowa Farm Bureau, and a part of the Keep Iowa Beautiful program.

On August 27, 2016, Danny and Lucy Thomas, also friends of the Gieselmans, opened up their shop to use as a venue for the benefit by the Balls. The main event was the live auction, including homemade desserts, tools, paintings, bag boards, and many other items. A live band was also in attendance, creating an atmosphere for a fun celebration.

Gieselman's crowd
A crowd of neighbors and family friends supporting the Gieselman family.

“Everything for the auction was donated,” says Ball. “It was just amazing the number of items we received. Everybody was willing to give, and it was really great to see how a small community can come together for one farming family. It turned out to be a pretty special night.”

Many of the donations came from local businesses such as Tyson Foods (who donated the meat for the pulled pork dinner), Pioneer, DeKalb, local banks, insurance companies, local barber shops, and many more.

“There was a 4-foot-tall teddy bear that went for $500 and a Yeti Cooler that brought $1,000 not because people wanted them but because the community wanted to donate as much as they could,” says Ball.

With over 600 community members in attendance, the auction lasted three hours raising more than $30,000 for the Gieselman family.

“It was one of those things you had to be there for,” says Ball. “Cars were parked for miles, and my wife was a huge wheel in organizing the whole thing. It was really something to see.”

Gieselman says he was overwhelmed with the support followed with an immense amount of gratitude. “From businesses working with me financially, to people I didn’t even know offering to help, there was just so much support from the community,” he says. “There are thousands of little examples of the things community members did, and I really came away with a deeper sense of community.”

On November 25, 2017, Gieselman celebrated one year in remission.

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