Through the devastation of their dairy farm, Marty and Kathy experienced God’s love through their extended family.
Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Mt 12:50)
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace …
Marty Nigon, the 6th of 10 children, loved living on a dairy farm near Rochester, Minn. The strongly Catholic Nigon family attended Mass at The Church of St. Francis of Assisi Parish and sent their children to its Catholic school. Marty was fortunate enough to go through the second grade there before having to switch to a small public school. The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi became very dear to Marty. To this day the prayer hangs in their home.
where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith;
When Marty was 19, he wanted to continue farming with his dad, but the farm, though good land, was too small. The cost of land was expensive; they just couldn’t make it. So his dad and the family decided to sell the farm and move, leaving everyone they knew behind. It turned out to be a very good move for the family. In 1978, they bought land and started farming in Greenwood. Just a few months later, heavy snow destroyed their neighbor’s barn. Marty, his brother Jim, who now lives just a quarter of a mile north, and his dad, spent three weeks helping them rebuild the barn. As a result, Marty met many of the neighbors in the area.
The farm the Nigons purchased is north of the Lindner family farm, where Kathy (Lindner) Nigon grew up. Kathy’s family has a long history in the Greenwood area, so much so, if you’re not a Lindner, you are most likely related to one. In fact, throughout the history of St. Mary Catholic School in Greenwood, there was a Lindner or a relative in every grade from 1913 until it closed in 2021.
Marty met his bride of 37 years when he was a young Jaycee. Every year, he drove the Miss Greenwoods in all the parades in the area. Kathy was on the court one year. They married, and the old saying, “If you’re not a Lindner, you will be related to one,” came true for Marty.
Their family of six children, four of whom are now married, and their four grandchildren, hold their Catholic Faith close and have a good work ethic and compassion for people.
where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
On Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, the mighty power of nature made its way across Wisconsin. The National Weather Service tracked a tornado from southwest of Greenwood to west of Loyal. It lasted approximately five minutes and damaged trees, barns and silos along its path. It had peak winds of 88 mph, its path length was 4.7 miles and its maximum width was 60 yards. The strongest point of the tornado hit the Nigon dairy farm.
Marty reflected, “It was just a blessing we were not home. We thank the Lord every day for what we have and the strength to carry on. Prayer is a very important thing, and it does work.” It was Kathy’s birthday, and they were visiting their daughter McKayla in La Crosse. Driving home, it was raining and there was constant lightning. An hour from their home, they started receiving phone calls. One neighbor who had calf hutch damage at their place asked, “Are you guys OK?” Then their son Luke called and said “Did you put the pumpkin wagons in the shed?” They told him they were not home. Soon after, Luke called them back, very emotional saying, “Dad, it’s really bad. The tops are off the silos.” Marty thought the top caps of the silos had blown off. He didn’t realize the extent of the devastation.
By the time they arrived home it was dark, and the storm had ended. There were flashing lights and police directing traffic as the highway was littered with downed trees, power lines and debris from their farm. Marty said, “There were hot wires everywhere—it was a very dangerous situation.”
“We would not have been strong enough to do what we did without God’s presence.” -Marty
They assessed the damage. Four silos were sheared off, one collapsed on the milk house and barn, killing three of their registered cows. One shed, the first building on the farm to the west, was completely gone. Marty, in disbelief, said, “Not one piece of tin or lumber was left of the shed.” The tornado destroyed most of the other buildings. They needed to move 67 frightened milking cows off the property through an unstable building. There were wires hanging, their only lighting was flashlights. Thankfully, they had a way to maneuver the cows out and through the hay shed. It was the only year they had left a four-foot path the length of the shed between the hay. Three cattle trailers just showed up. The cows were hauled to Terry Lindner’s farm (Kathy’s brother) down the road. Terry had sold his herd earlier that year so the barn was available. In fact, some of the Nigon cows were bought from Terry. The Lindner cows knew exactly where to go, which assisted the rest of the herd following them into the barn. They were settled in by 4 a.m.
“We would not have been strong enough to do what we did without God’s presence,” Marty said. “We had resilience for it, but it wasn’t because of us. It was given to us from above.”
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.
Experiencing the power of nature is humbling. Of all the trees that fell near their house, not one landed on it. “We figured we lost 30 to 35 trees,” said Kathy. The tree right in front of their house was uprooted. Trees that were left standing were stripped of their limbs and leaves. “They looked like toothpicks.”
At daybreak, electrical workers, neighbors and strangers started arriving. Family and church friends from St. Mary Parish, including Father Leo, pitched in to help. Every day, food was donated to feed the 50 to 60 volunteers. With a tremendous amount of support and help, within five days, everything was cleaned up; rebuilding the farm took six weeks.
Though the Nigons wondered, “Why, why us?” Marty recognized, “We are not in charge here. We had faith that God was watching over us, especially keeping all the volunteers and our family safe.” The entire Nigon family tried to make the best of it. They met wonderful people, whom they will never forget and would have never met otherwise. Other buildings on the farm and the house, miraculously, were OK with only minor damage. The five flatbed wagons Luke was worried about—full of pumpkins sitting in the yard—were left untouched.
For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Since the rebuilding, Marty and Kathy have had the opportunity to give back multiple times. “If anyone has any type of a tragedy,” Marty said, “and I can’t physically help them—which I do a lot—we’ll give them some money. We had so many people who came and helped us. It was just amazing.” Marty and Kathy know firsthand, if everyone gives, even a little, it really adds up.
“The Holy Spirit is with us all the time, every minute of our lives,” said Marty. Turning to his wife, he asked, “Don’t you agree?” Kathy said, “Yes, every minute of every day.”
Story by Cathy Greenseth
Published in the May/June 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine