Minnesota farmer/extension agent Stordahl dies

ERSKINE, Minn. -- Jim Stordahl, a McIntosh, Minn., dairy farmer and former University of Minnesota extension agent, once was described as having "a great heart for helping people."...

Polk County extension educator James Stordahl listens as Amish farmer Elam Troyer speaks about his milk production process in the milk room on Troyer's farm in McIntosh, MN on April 11, 2016. (Nick Nelson/Agweek)(Embargoed until May 3, 2016)

ERSKINE, Minn. - Jim Stordahl, a McIntosh, Minn., dairy farmer and former University of Minnesota extension agent, once was described as having "a great heart for helping people."

Stordahl, 61, known for his modesty, love of agriculture and commitment to helping others, died March 7 after a long battle with cancer. Hundreds of people who knew him - and whose lives he touched - attended his funeral March 11 at the Win-E-Mac High School gymnasium in Erskine, Minn.

"Jim was very modest and wouldn't have wanted all the attention" of a large public funeral, says Roxanne Stordahl, his wife. "But he was also a great connector of people," which the funeral reflected.

Stordahl hadn't publicized his cancer and some people weren't aware of it. That increased the importance of the public funeral, a "celebration of his life," Roxanne says.

She will continue to operate the family's organic dairy farm, which she and Jim ran together for many years. She doesn't plan to return to her work as a self-employed counselor; she stepped back from counseling a year ago to help care for Jim.


"I'm going to focus my energies on the farm," Roxanne says. "It was always Jim and me on the farm. We had different areas we focused on, but it was us together running the farm."

Carrying on the family farm was important to Jim Stordahl, who farmed before joining the extension service. His great-grandfather Jens Stordahl, who came to Minnesota from Stordahl, Norway, established the farm. One of Jim's grandsons also is named Jens.

'He really wanted to help me'

The Agweek cover story on May 2, 2016, featured Stordahl and his work with the extension service. It quoted extension officials, commodity group leaders and agricultural producers who talked about Stordahl's commitment to agriculture and helping others.

In that story, Amish farmer Elam Troyer, who moved to rural McIntosh, Minn., nine years ago, recalled his initial meeting with Stordahl.

"The first time I looked at his face, I could tell he really wanted to help me," Troyer said. "And he has, many times."

On the day Agweek visited McIntosh, Stordahl helped people with questions, among other things, about oak trees, dairy goats, dairy cattle and weather data - all of which he was able to answer.

"It's very gratifying when you can solve a problem," Stordahl said during the visit.


In the story, Nathan Johnson, an extension service official who at the time was Stordahl's immediate supervisor, said Stordahl "does a great job of connecting with people. He's got a great heart for helping people. He recognizes who his audience is and has a desire to serve them."

Stordahl worked in a number of Minnesota countries during his 21-year extension career. The 2016 story focused primarily on his work in Polk and Clearwater counties, which he was serving at the time, but noted that he regularly helped people elsewhere, as well.

The story didn't mention Stordahl's cancer, which he wasn't talking about publicly. On June 30, 2016, two months after the story was published, Stordahl retired from the extension service to concentrate on his health.

'Influence people positively'

The cancer was serious and the prognosis when he retired was grim, says Roxanne, who once was a nurse.

"But not to Jim. In his mind, he was going to beat it. For his family. For his (two) grandchildren," she says.

Bryan Stordahl, Jim and Roxanne's son, died of cancer in 2013. Bryce Stordahl, their other son, and his wife, Andrea, live on a farm near Roxanne's.

Andrea was close to her father-in-law. Both had a strong interest in writing, among other things.


"He loved his family, loved his grandchildren. He had a passion for knowledge, was involved in his community and helped bring people together," Andrea says. "He was such a good man. And he would influence people positively, without him knowing it, just by (them) watching him."

'Thank all the good people'

Though the Stordahls didn't publicize his illness, many friends and neighbors knew about it - and helped Jim and Roxanne in ways both great and small, Roxanne says.

"Some of his last words to me, and he could barely speak, were, 'Thank all the good people,'" Roxanne says. "And I told him, 'I will, Jim, I will.'"

She says now, "And that was Jim. Always thinking about others."

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