A man out front; a man to follow

Farmer and father-in-law Heinrich Stamm with wife Emmi in the Elsass, 2009 (he's standing on a block).

We came back to Switzerland just in time. Last night Robert’s father, Heinrich Stamm, 89, suffered a serious heart attack. All seven children were able to make it to his bed during the night to say their goodbyes. This morning he said ‘Hello’ again, although very weakly. It seems he’s not as ready to quit as we thought last night!

He never was a quitter. He was a starter, someone who was always on the forefront of change. A farmer, like his father before him, and most of the people around him, he grew up plowing the fields with oxen, and walking gravel and dirt streets. Phenomenal changes have happened since he was a boy in Schleitheim.

When jeeps began to replace oxen as drawing power, Heinrich was the first one in the province to own one. When he bought it the salesman told him, “don’t worry about how to drive it, your boys will show you”. When chemicals were first introduced as crop protection, Heinrich was the one to own a sprayer and go custom spraying throughout the area – without mask and gloves of course.

As almost everywhere in Switzerland in the forties, fields and pastures in Schleitheim were very small and scattered. Heinrich was forefront in the committee to ‘defrag’ the fields, forming blocks for each owner for more practical operations. There was a lot of friction – high emotions are attached to land. But he was never afraid of conflict. The Stamms now owned a sizeable block called Emmerland, two kilometres from the village. There, on top of the hill, they built the farm site, the Emmerhof where I would come as a young Canadian bride in 1979. It was one of only a few farm sites situated outside the village.

Many farmers fight change. Heinrich embraced it. When we wanted to sell the Emmerhof and immigrate to Canada, he supported us, travelling to Alberta every spring for the next ten years to help with seeding.

Community involvement was a matter of course for him. He was president of the local conservative party for many years, board member of the agriculture cooperative, elder in his church, and the local judge for smaller complaints. Born with a cleft palate, he had a speech impediment that made it difficult for newcomers to understand him. Often asked to chair meetings or read reports, he would quote the Bible saying when no one else will speak, the stones must cry out.

If we forget all his other sayings (and he has one for every situation, it seems), we’ll remember his frequent admonishment, ‘sind barmherzig’ – be merciful. He would have been very good at cross cultural relationships. (He was quite accommodating with his Canadian daughter-in-law!)

It’s a great honor for me to be part of his family. It doesn’t look like he’ll stay with us much longer. But as long as he does, we’ll be with him as much as we can, hold the wine glass up to his lips when he asks for it, repeat Psalms 23 with him, pray and do whatever it takes to show him we love him.

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1 Response to A man out front; a man to follow

  1. Hans Biemond says:


    all the best from here in New Zealand with difficult days ahead.
    we all know dead will be there always and for every one of us.
    as sad as it is.
    I believe we never really die part of us always carry on in our children.
    Your father and father in law has more than earned his beans reading trough Mariannes writing.
    I hope that when my time comes one of my daughters in law will be thinking of me like that.
    sincerely Hans

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