By Louise Chambers
When her neighbor, a farmer, fell ill suddenly, a Minnesota teen volunteered to help him tend the land. The farmer was beyond grateful for the support, and the teen picked up new skills and tricks of the trade—thus a beautiful friendship was formed.
Steve Brake, 63, lives with his wife, Mary, in Wellmont, Minnesota, where he grew up. Abi Reetz, 17, and her family are their neighbors.
“I’m a fourth-generation farmer and livestock producer,” Steve told The Epoch Times. “My great-grandfather came to Minnesota in 1898 and started the farm that we still farm today.”
Steve and his wife bought the house that they’re currently staying in about five years ago. The house was his parents’ home and his parents had lived there for 30 years. Steve always knew that there was a family next door who had some girls but he never knew them personally.
When Steve and his wife moved, Abi, 12 at the time, and her sisters, Morgan and Kira, would knock on the family’s door to ask “silly questions” or permission to make chalk drawings on their driveway. When Abi got older, she asked Steve if she could join him in riding tractors on the farm since she loved tractors.
“We kind of adopted them as our neighborhood granddaughters,” Steve said. “It’s been very fun to get to know them.”
During Steve’s farm’s September 2021 harvest, he suddenly fell ill. It began with sharp pains in his neck, spine, and joints. Later that same day, Steve lost his balance and his vision went blurry. He then called his wife and the two went to the hospital.
At the hospital, doctors thought he was having a stroke but found no evidence. For 21 days at the hospital, Steve couldn’t eat, see or talk very well. After 21 days without a diagnosis, Steve was discharged. He was finally diagnosed at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, with Miller Fisher syndrome, a rare variant of Guillain-Barré that attacks the nerves and causes severe pain.
Steve came back home at the end of October and after four or five days he wanted to desperately get back to his tractor and plow.
However, since he was still having balance problems, requiring a walker or a cane to get around, had eyesight issues, and difficulty climbing into his tractor, Mary accompanied him on the first day for about five hours.
“I convinced her that I was capable [and] in good enough shape to do it,” Steve said. “But I was just desperate to get out of the house and get out to help my family harvest.”
Soon, Abi, a Worthington High School student, came knocking at his door wanting to help tend the land.
“Once Abi called to volunteer to come out and ride with me, Mary was relieved … I was relieved that I had somebody with me,” Steve said.
Abi was humbled by mistakes and boosted by every new lesson learned. Over 12 months the pair grew close, sharing great conversations about their hopes, dreams, and Abi’s plans for the future as they worked.
“Abi came out and rode with me on a daily basis, and all day on weekends,” Steve said. “She would get to the farm about two o’clock in the afternoon. Some days we would be done at seven o’clock, but there would be days where we would go until 10 or 11 o’clock … she’d be putting in eight, nine hours a day in the tractor with me.”
It got to a point, where the pair spent so much time together, that Steve’s brothers decided Abi was capable of working on her own, and she began driving her own tractor.
“I would be in another one, and we would stay in communication with each other on the phone … it became like a game … we were able to work together, but not in the same tractor,” Steve said.
Abi told The Epoch Times that she and Steve had always planned for her to ride the brand-new tractor he bought right before he fell ill. It just happened earlier than expected.
“At first, he was pretty nervous about putting me in a seat by myself, as anyone would; I mean, it’s a million-dollar machine!” Abi said. “But after probably a few days, he said you know you’re fully capable of it.”
Abi is “one of the guys” on the farm, said Steve, who has two sons, as well as nephews who have young daughters.
“They’re seeing Abi out there doing things that they’ve only ever seen their dads do,” Steve said. “It might inspire them to someday think that they want to join our farm operation.”
Steve describes his 17-year-old sidekick as “shy,” claiming she “likes to stay under the radar.” Nonetheless, a year after Abi stepped up to help him on the farm, Steve felt the teen deserved recognition. He thus wrote a letter to her school.
Worthington Public Schools reposted Steve’s letter on Facebook.
Abi, who played basketball until sophomore year and still plays clarinet in the high school marching band, was not expecting recognition but thought Steve’s letter was “pretty cool.”
Steve said: “The kids that are recognized at school, are somebody that scores all the touchdowns, or scores all the points in a basketball game, or is a straight-A student … Abi is not any of those. I just wrote the letter to ask the school if there was some way that Abi could be recognized for her kindness.”
Needless to say, the response they received was “amazing.”
“I think it’s the kind of story that people like to see,” he said. “There’s a lot of good kids out there … I think, overall, that this country is in a good place with girls like Abi to lead us!”
Attending Abi’s confirmation at church one Sunday, Steve noticed the bishop talking to the kids in the congregation about “superheroes”—regular people made to do extraordinary things to help those who can’t, or won’t, help themselves. He then leaned over to Abi and told her that she was his “superhero.”
“But she likes the term ‘tractor princess’ better!” Steve said reflecting, “Abi took the time to be kind to me, and to help me, and it made a difference in my life. It made a difference in her life … people just need to help each other and we’ll all be fine.”
Abi—who plans to study agriculture after having the experience of helping Steve—said: “Whether you know the person or not … even if it’s as small as holding the door open for someone, take time out of your day to help that person if you see them in need.”