“Amazing. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think about Linda.” Karen Landman has worked with crop adjustor Linda Smith for most of Linda’s 20-year career with ProAg. “I can’t recall a time when she hasn’t been part of our team.”
Linda’s health has finally forced her to slow down and consider retirement—which has been a big adjustment for coworkers who would never have put “slow” and “Linda” in the same sentence.
“She can outwork an Amish workhorse,” Karen states. “One year she worked the most claims in the company, and the quality was always there, too. She knows no other way to work—or to live—than to give her maximum effort at all times. When a new adjuster came onboard, we would try to send them out with Linda so they could see it done right, but we’d always tell them, ‘You’d better bring your lunch, because you won’t be stopping.’
“Linda will definitely be missed,” Karen summarizes. “We’ve been like a family, and she has been a real team player, an example, and a good friend to everyone. If we had a team vote, she would always win MVP—minus one vote, because she would never vote for herself. We’re all just grateful we had the chance to know her.”
Linda was willing to answer a few questions for us on her life and career. Here are her answers.
Tell us a bit of your background.
I grew up the oldest of five daughters on our family farm in Huron County, Ohio. Our parents instilled a good work ethic in us, and we drove the machinery, hauled manure, fed the livestock, and baled hay as if we were boys! I loved growing up on a farm. I also was an athlete (before Title IX) who played softball, basketball, and loved to swim and snow ski. I went on to college and majored in physical education (bachelor’s from Ashland University, master’s from Miami University, both in Ohio). I taught and coached K-12 for 15 years, plus five years at Wittenberg University. I met my husband (also a farmer) and we married in 1983. When our children were born, I quit teaching and was a stay-at-home mom to our two boys.
On the personal side, faith, family, and friends are the priority of my life. Dick (who also works for ProAg in compliance) and I have been married nearly 32 years and have two fine, grown sons (the oldest is married and has given us two precious grandsons). My mom, dad, and sisters are very close, and we gather at least once a month (often more) on the farm where we learned how to love, laugh, and work hard. Before the ALS slowed me down, I was very active in our church teaching Sunday school, working with the youth, and running a mini summer camp. I was also a 4-H leader, active in Farm Bureau, and I taught swim lessons every summer at the community pool.
How did you get into the crop insurance business?
In 1991, I became a field reporter for the Clark County Farm Service Agency. In 1994, all field reporters were trained in crop insurance adjusting for a mandatory FSA bill that only lasted two years. Since I had the training, I contacted a private crop insurance agency (American Agrinsurance) and went to work for them on a per diem basis. At the first regional meeting, there was only myself and another woman. It’s great having more women now involved.
How did you connect with ProAg?
When American Agrinsurance folded, our initial group of Ohio adjusters stuck together. We went with next company and so on down the line. I think ProAg is the fifth one we’ve worked for! I continued to work per diem until both boys were in college. I then went three-fourth time, and eventually full-time.
What aspects of your job did you find the most enjoyable?
Several of us have been together most of these years. We’ve seen some retire, and welcomed new ones on board. I enjoy working with this group. Plus, I’ve always loved meeting people so working with the producers is enjoyable. The adjusting tasks I like best are appraising corn to be chopped for silage and doing pre-harvest apple appraisals (it’s a neat time of year to be in the fields/orchards).
What are you most proud of in your time at ProAg?
The friendships made would be number one. Also, I pride myself in timely, efficient work. If it meant long days so I wouldn’t have to backtrack, I would put in a long day.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your job?
Without a doubt, the ever-changing technology! It’s so important, yet so foreign to most of my generation. It is challenging, yet rewarding to learn something new.
ALS has recently become a big part of your story. Tell us about your journey with the disease.
My first symptoms were in May 2012, but I was not officially diagnosed (after a myriad of scans, MRIs, tests, etc.) until July 2013. ALS affects everyone differently, yet we all experience some of the same symptoms. Because there are so many questions surrounding ALS, it usually takes a long time to diagnose, and a person is often diagnosed with something else until more symptoms occur.
In my case, they diagnosed it as a stroke in July of 2012 even though none of the scans, multiple tests, or my own health history proved it. This was very frustrating to me over the year because I was falling unexplainably and having other subtle issues—none of which should have been happening if it was a stroke. In May of 2013, I was in a competitive swim class for triathletes, and it was then that I really suspected something more was wrong. (I have always been a strong swimmer, teaching hundreds of kids every summer to swim. But now I was having trouble getting my muscles to perform even the basic strokes). The neurosurgeon then ordered more tests, and I received the devastating news.
I’ve always been a multitasker, going 100 miles an hour from sunup to sundown. Now my whole life has changed. I move at a snail’s pace, but I am still moving. I use a walker and, for long distances, a wheelchair. I have lost my voice and have difficulty swallowing, but so far don’t need a feeding tube (although I must eat soft foods-gone are the salads, steaks, snack foods. I didn’t gain the holiday pounds!). It is very humbling to go from being the one in charge to relying on others to get through the day. I love kids, and not being able to work with the youth in our community or play and read stories to my grandkids is probably the toughest. But through it all, God has been faithful. I stand on His promises. Family and friends have been wonderful! The ice bucket challenge was so encouraging to all of us with ALS.
I never thought I wouldn’t be working. People would ask me, “Don’t you think you’re too old to be climbing grain bins?” I was fit as a fiddle, loved my work, and had no plans to retire until ALS made it physically impossible and unsafe to continue. I will miss the people I came in to contact with, my fellow adjusters, and the challenges and rewards of the job.
Regarding ALS, it’s so non-discriminatory and vague. There is neither rhyme nor reason why it affects a person. I’m a fixer (oldest child syndrome) who always thinks, “Ok, why did this happen? Get to the bottom of it and fix it!” Well, with Lou Gehrig’s disease there is no fixing, no explanation. So, I’ve learned to trust in God even more, let go, and just be reassured He is in control and all will be well (not as I planned, but that’s ok). Now, that’s not to say I’ve rolled over and quit. I’m doing physical therapy, learning yet another new technology (speech augmentation device), and have been participating (and will continue to participate) in research to find a cure for ALS. I am also involved in a monthly support group, which is a tremendous help for those of us with ALS and our caregivers!