Pat and Jack count their many blessings
For almost seven decades, Cashton native Jack Herricks has lived and worked on his family’s dairy farm. “My grandparents began this farm as newlyweds in 1912,” he says. “Grandpa had a long reign running the farm—he didn’t sell it to my dad until 1957. Dad then took it over for the next 14 years.” Tragically, Jack’s father was killed in a tractor accident when Jack was only 19 years old. “I really loved farming and always wanted that to be my life’s work,” Jack explains. “So, I stepped in when my dad died, and I’ve been farming here ever since. I’ve been at this gig for 50 years!”
Jack’s wife Pat has been by his side for nearly all of those 50 years. “I also grew up on a dairy farm about five miles from Cashton, so I knew the lifestyle,” Pat says. “I always said I would never marry a farmer, but then I met Jack and here I am,” she laughs. The couple married when Jack was 20 and Pat was 18.
Even though Jack loved farm life, as a youth he attended Holy Cross Seminary in La Crosse for his high school years. “I went there fully intending on becoming a priest, but halfway through my senior year I just knew it wasn’t for me,” Jack says. He started college with the thought of becoming a veterinarian. “I loved animals, but I was sure there wouldn’t be room for me at the farm, being the second oldest of 12 siblings. I figured becoming a vet would be somewhat close to what I really wanted to do,” he explains. Then the call came that his father had died, and Jack volunteered to leave college and run the family farm.
“In retrospect, I think Holy Cross Seminary helped prepare me for taking over the farm at such a young age,” Jack says. “I already had a strong work ethic growing up on the farm, and the seminary nurtured that and developed responsibility. I also had a lot of faith and determination.”
When Jack took the reins in 1971, the farm had 34 cows and 120 acres. Today, it has grown to 630 cows and 1,180 acres.
Two of the Herricks’ three children work on the farm with their spouses and are part owners in the farm corporation. “Our oldest daughter, Angie, is the assistant herdsman, does farm accounting and helps Pat with payroll. Her husband, Donald, helps with cropping and is our farm mechanic,” Jack explains. “Our youngest son, Daniel, is the herd manager. His wife, Michelle, takes care of the calf barn. She excels at that because you need someone with motherly instincts in that role.” Pat takes care of the newborn calves at the farm, nurturing them until they are old enough for the calf barn.
Middle son Nathan and his wife, Janice, and their children live and work in South Carolina.
Jack and Pat have been blessed with seven grandchildren, who have helped at the farm through the years. “They learn different jobs as they grow up,” Jack says. “Right now, our youngest grandsons help in the calf barn and mow the grass. They’re also very involved in 4-H.”
Jack and Pat agree that one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced through the years was “going from managing cows to learning how to manage people.”
“There was a time when Pat and I and the family could do all the work on the farm,” Jack says. As the farm grew, they realized they needed additional help. They now have 10 employees, and their nephew Ben also works on the farm.
“Our employees are our number-one priority and our biggest asset,” Jack says. “Probably the single most important thing we do for our employees is to follow the golden rule—we treat everyone the way we want to be treated ourselves. I always say if our people are happy, our cows will be happy!”
Pat says one of the biggest joys of being a farming family is the feeling of togetherness. Jack agrees, adding, “As the farm has grown and more people have become involved, we’ve tried to instill in everyone that we need to be proud of each other’s strengths and support each other in our weaknesses. Together we’re stronger than any one of us is individually.”
The couple says it takes a lot of faith to be a farming family. “When you think about farming in general, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong that are outside of your control,” Jack explains. “For instance, it’s a huge act of faith to put thousands of dollars into seed and fertilizer when there’s no guarantee what kind of crop we’ll get, or what the weather will be like. I witnessed that kind of faith in my parents, and it set a good example for my own Faith life.”
Jack says his Faith life was further strengthened by a near-death experience he had in 2005. “Early in the summer, I noticed that I was feeling stiff and sore, and more tired than usual. I was only 53 so I thought old age was coming on fast and hard,” he jokes. His condition worsened through the next few months, progressing to vomiting and fainting. Finally, he agreed to see a doctor. “We started at the walk-in clinic and the nurse told us to go immediately to the emergency room,” Jack says. “The nurse there tried to take my blood pressure, but it wouldn’t register. Soon there was a crowd of blue gowned medical staff surrounding me and the doctor told me they were taking me right to emergency surgery—I was down to 13 heartbeats per minute and was fading fast. I remember his exact words: ‘You’re about to die.’”
Jack experienced a strange phenomenon as they wheeled him into the operating room. “I couldn’t see the end of the room because it was so long and narrow. It just seemed to go on forever,” he says. “The next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery. I told my doctor what had happened, and he said what I experienced is called tunneling. It often happens to people just before they die. He said I was at the threshold of the door of death, but I didn’t get through.’”
Jack would later learn that his illness was caused by undiagnosed Lyme disease. “After receiving a pacemaker, my recovery was phenomenal. I went home two days after surgery,” he says. “Seventeen years later, I still feel grateful for the blessing God gave me that day. I think He must have had more things for me to do.” Jack says the experience gave him a greater appreciation for life. “I know that every day is a good day; some days are just better than others,” he says. “Going through that also helped me develop a servant attitude. I want to be of service to other people as much as I can.”
Jack and Pat say they are grateful for the many blessings in their lives, including the opportunity to live and work on the family farm for more than five decades. “We don’t glory in being the owners of this farm, we glory in being the caretakers,” Jack explains. “Our land has been in the family for 110 years, and it’s growing better crops today than it did when my grandparents first came to it. It’s a good lesson to live by. We all need to be caretakers of what God has entrusted to us.”
While Pat is ready for retirement, Jack says he still loves working on the farm every day. “As long as my health is good, I want to stay involved,” he says. “I want to be a mentor and support person, someone to give guidance to our family that reflects all the experiences I’ve accumulated in my lifetime. I always tell people that a family farm is built on the successes of the previous and present generations to support the future generations.”
The Herricks Family Farm will be in the spotlight on Sept. 21 when they host Rural Life Day, an annual diocesan event that celebrates our connection to and dependence upon rural life. “It is such an honor to be chosen to host this event,” Pat says.
The day will begin with Mass celebrated by Bishop William Patrick Callahan, followed by an awards ceremony to recognize accomplishments of local farms and farmers. There will also be a blessing of livestock, crops, the land and farm equipment, followed by a delicious meal. “It will be a wonderful day to gather people together at our farm and celebrate the bounty that God has blessed us with,” Jack says.
“Rural Life Day is a celebration of production agriculture. It celebrates farmers who feed and nourish the world,” Jack continues. “There are so many vitally important professions in the world, but only 1½ percent of the population is directly involved in production agriculture.” Pausing, he adds, “When you think of it that way, farmers have a pretty noble profession.”
Story by Mary Ellen Bliss
Photography by Michael Lieurance
Published in the July/August 2022 issue of Catholic Life magazine
41st Annual Rural Life Day – Cashton
• Sept. 21 | 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
• Hosted by Jack and Pat Herricks, 12130 State Hwy. 33
• Mass at 10 a.m. celebrated by Bishop Callahan followed by awards, recognitions, blessing of crops and machinery.
• A catered meal will be provided for a donation
• Wagon rides to tour the ridge top farm.
• A fun day on the farm—all are welcome.