Some friends have suggested that Michael and Dana Rethwisch become “snow birds,” living in Nebraska during the warm months and then the temperate climate of southern California the rest of the year.
That probably wouldn’t go over to well with the University of Nebraska Extension, Rethwisch’s employer the past decade or the University of California Cooperative Extension in Blythe, California, the place to which the Rethwisches are returning.
Rethwisch, a native of Wayne, said he and Dana had moved back to Nebraska for mostly family reasons. They were attracted to the quality of the schools and they wanted their kids to grow up around their cousins and other family members.
The move back to Blythe, even to the family’s former house there, means that the next month or so will be spent unpacking while Rethwisch gets back to his old office and begins the work of research and consulting with area producers about crops, weeds and insects that thrive in the California heat.
He still has to catch up on some writing in regard to his Nebraska research on growth enhancements and other crop issues. Here on the Great Plains, he said it was rewarding to identify some insects locally that previously had not been spotted. He wasn’t complaining that the Japanese beetle hasn’t been spotted in Butler County, nor the emerald ash borer, but for both “it’s just a matter of time,” he said.
Now, however, 80 miles north of the Mexico border, Rethwisch will be working in the year-round agriculture of Southern California. He’ll be addressing aphids and white flies and the insects that carry viruses that lead to problems for melons and other crops. Because of the Nebraska winter weather, such insects don’t cause as many problems here.
About that winter weather. Rethwisch said it became clear last winter that living in the northern climate wasn’t an option, thanks to what happened Oct. 1, 2015 on the David City Golf Course.
On that day, Rethwisch basically dropped dead of a massive heart attack while he watched his daughter’s cross country meet. The attack happened just after he had returned to town from Joe Hruska’s farm 11 miles away, where he most certainly wouldn’t have had received aid in time.
Instead, he collapsed a block from the hospital with a doctor nearby and critical rescue gear a short dash away.
“This wasn’t about me,” he said, talking about the incident a couple months later, and mentioning all the people who helped him. “I was just laying there.”
Just a half hour earlier, Hruska had urged Rethwisch to call it a day and go to his daughter’s meet. Rethwisch wasn’t budging until Hruska insisted.
“I wanted to finish off the plots. We had work to do. I’m a professional, I want to get my work done,” Rethwisch explained in late 2015. “It was almost to the point of an argument."
Rethwisch slowly got back to health so that he could work, but he had sustained some heart damage.
On Monday, he said that the experience taught him a few things.
“We just take the ability to drive as a given,” he said, describing the several months when he couldn’t because of the risk of another attack. “I needed people to get me places.”
He said most people probably take their health for granted, and now he has to think about pacing himself.
“Every day is a blessing,” he said. “Right now I shouldn’t be here.”
A year after the attack, cold fall weather crept in and it became clear that Rethwisch couldn’t tolerate the cold.
“I’d have gloves on with the heater going in the car and three fingers with no blood in them. It scared me enough to realize we couldn’t stay here,” he said.
Between the heart damage, medication and the cold weather, he said his body was pulling blood from the extremities “to keep things warm.”
Now 58, Rethwisch said he’s accepting the fact that he can’t work like he did in the first 20 years of his career.
“I do know I get tired a lot quicker than I used to,” he said.
While he researched crops, weeds and insects in Butler County, his influence on people has probably been deeper. His approach to teaching has helped dozens of young 4-Hers to excel in scientific competitions. Over the years, The Banner-Press could expect to get an article from Rethwisch about Butler County 4-Hers’ success at the Nebraska State Fair. In the identification of trees, weeds and insects, area 4-Hers have put together a record that will be tough to match.
The county produced 31 state champion plant identification teams in the past decade, and there have been 29 from the other 92 counties.
The latest example was from Wyatt Moravec, a sophomore at Aquinas. He competed with the Nebraska 4-H horticulture team in nationals in Indianapolis. He and three other Nebraskans captured this year’s national title with Rethwisch as their coach.
Moravec realized he should work with Rethwisch while he could.
“I heard Mr. Rethwisch was leaving,” Wyatt said recently. “He’s probably the best coach in America.”
On more than one occasion, Rethwisch said the medals were good for the young competitors, but it was more important to see them achieve and grow their interest in science and education.
Outside of Extension, Rethwisch has been active as the chairman of the Butler County Tourism Committee, helping to organize how the funds from the county’s lodging tax are utilized to improve the climate for tourism in the county.
On Oct. 30, friends and colleagues filed into an open house at the Butler County Event Center to say goodbye and talk about experiences.
Area Extension educators were on hand to wish the Rethwisch success as they head back to California.
“We were humbled and honored by all the people who came to see us,” Rethwisch said. “There were farmers who left the field for a couple hours to come in. That was very nice on their part.”
A steady stream of hungry people filed into the Municipal Auditorium on Sunday. They were hungry, but also eager to lend some support to Chad Fuller and his family.
Chad, assistant principal at David City Public Schools, broke his neck July 8 in a lake accident at a family gathering near St. Paul. The injury left him paralyzed, facing a long road to recovery. Following rehab treatment in Lincoln, Chad has moved back to David City and lives at St. Joseph’s Villa.
“I’m blown away by all the generosity,” Chad said as he visited with family and friends during the benefit. “I can see why people have called David City home, and we’ve only been here four years.”
Chad said he was grateful for the technology that has helped him with everyday living and allowed him to be back near his family.
Fuller family members summed up their response to the support with one word: Overwhelmed.
“The family would just like to thank everyone who came out to support Chad and the family,” said Chad’s brother, Rusty Fuller of St. Paul. “With several expenses awaiting, every little bit helps. We are very humbled by the generosity of all the volunteers who took time to make this event happen. We pray every day that Chad keeps improving and with the help of all of you we know great things will happen.”
The David City Booster Club organized the event, which featured a pancake breakfast and a long lineup of items in a silent auction. Items came from area businesses and also neighboring schools - Aquinas, East Butler and Shelby-Rising City.
David City elementary teacher Jodi Andel, treasurer of the DCHS Booster Club, said the fund raiser was expected to surpass $10,000 raised. She praised the work of all the volunteers.
“I thought it was great for the community to come out and support the Fullers,” she said, noting that much of the work was done behind the scenes.
“Laura Smith and Tracy Hein had gone and gathered all of the silent auction items and organized those,” she said. “There were thousands of dollars of things donated.”
Booster club members realized that the financial struggles of medical care are high and will continue.
“We wanted to do our part and the booster club thought that would help,” Andel said. “Hopefully (support) doesn’t’ stop just because there isn’t another organized benefit for them.”
The community extended beyond Butler County to other communities who know the Fullers through their involvement in high school athletics. Chad coached and taught at Syracuse before coming to David City, and his father, Bob Fuller, now filling in at Weeping Water, has had a long career in schools across the state. In August, a contingent of David City teachers and friends took part in a softball tournament benefit in Syracuse. Rusty Fuller said fund raisers knew that they expenses would continue, so he was grateful for the David City event.
Accounts to assist the Fuller family have been set up at US Bank and Countryside Bank in Syracuse. Bob Fuller has established a fund at the Plattsmouth State Bank in Plattsmouth to help with the specialized van that the Fullers need for transportation.