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Published August 28, 2009, 07:07 AM

Friends help Pingree farmer

Jim “Pookie” Odenbach watched as his friends and neighbors harvested barley from his 200 acres Monday. He had watched friends and neighbors help him with other farm projects too. But he didn’t watch as they worked his cattle and hayed his fields earlier this year. That’s because he was in a coma.

By: Katie Ryan, The Jamestown Sun

NEAR PINGREE, N.D. — Jim “Pookie” Odenbach watched as his friends and neighbors harvested barley from his 200 acres Monday.

He had watched friends and neighbors help him with other farm projects too. But he didn’t watch as they worked his cattle and hayed his fields earlier this year.

That’s because he was in a coma.

Odenbach, of rural Pingree, suffered from respiratory failure and a hernia three days after his gastric bypass surgery on June 8.

He was treated in Jamestown and when he didn’t get better, he was transferred to Fargo. There, he lapsed into a coma.

He woke up six weeks later.

“I didn’t even know what day it was when I woke up,” he said.

But his troubles weren’t over. A bout with pneumonia landed him in a Mandan, N.D., hospital until Aug. 4. Since then, he took rehabilitation therapy in Bismarck and now he receives therapy in Carrington. Now, Odenbach still has trouble negotiating stairs and sometimes walks with a cane.

“It’s a slow process, but its going pretty good I guess,” Odenbach said.

Climbing into a combine is a task his muscles just aren’t ready for yet, he said.

So while his muscles strengthen and body heals, friends and neighbors are helping work his cattle and harvest his fields. About 10 fellow farmers showed up to his barley field Monday with two grain carts, seven combines and a dozen semi-trucks.

In a few hours, the group had harvested all 200 acres.

“Things went pretty well,” said Donnie Perleberg, an area farmer who helped at Odenbach’s field Monday. “It was hard to keep everyone from running into each other.”

And that’s how it is in Pingree, Perleberg said. People there just help each other out.

“Could be you someday, you never know,” he said.

In fact, in 2003, it was.

Perleberg’s father battled cancer that year. It wasn’t long before Odenbach and other farmers pitched in to help.

“There were tractors there in no time,” Perleberg said.

Some organizations like Farm Rescue and Farm Aid seek to serve struggling farmers who suffer from health issues or require other support services.

In many areas, neighbors don’t know one another or they don’t always have time to help with another’s field. Programs like Farm Aid and Farm Rescue aid those people.

But Pingree residents didn’t apply for their help, Perleberg said.

Instead, more than 20 friends and neighbors seeded, sprayed, hayed and harvested throughout the summer.

“They kind of lined things up without me even saying,” Odenbach said.

Part of the reason is because the Pingree community has helped with other farms before, Perleberg said. But another is because many of the residents grew up together, said Eldon Redlin, Woodworth, N.D.

“We were hanging out since we were three feet tall I guess,” he said.

So for those reasons, the group intends to help with Odenbach’s corn and soybean harvest later this year.

“We’ve all just been friends a long time and he needs help,” Redlin said.

A fundraiser has been planned to help defray Odenbach’s medical costs. The dinner and auction are set for 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at the 281 Stop, Pingree.

Sun reporter Katie Ryan can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by e-mail at kryan@jamestownsun.com

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