“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
Desmond Tutu (1931 – ), South African social rights activist
During the Great Depression, my grandparents bought 100 acres of virgin land in Northwest Ohio that became a working dairy, apple orchard, and farm store. As their family grew, the kids were taught to run the dairy, tend the orchard, and serve customers in the store. They were learning how to run the complex Grain business my grandpa ultimately envisioned.
At my birth, his vision had taken shape in the form of The Andersons, a three-generation family partnership including my grandparents, their six children and spouses, and eventually 55 grandkids, all of whom became owners-in-trust at birth. The dairy had closed (the cow barns turned into apartments) and the apple orchard had been abandoned. All of us, plus a few employees’ families, lived on the property (known today as, “the farm”), and it was a great place for fueling the industry, imagination, and fun for me, my siblings, dozens of cousins, and employees’ kids.
It was an unusual way to grow up. Yet, as kids, it’s all we knew, and I don’t think we ever considered the impact this kind of life would have on our individual or collective development. The farm provided an incredible mix of energies, ideologies, challenges, and opportunities. We had more stimulation and activity than one could ask for. There was invariably something to keep us engaged. We learned how to work hard and still have fun.
It was also breeding ground for programming that paralleled the childhoods of our parents (and perhaps cranked up a notch or two in my case.) Like them, I was being prepared for success in the family business. When my dad grew up, the typical sibling rivalry was at play, along with my grandpa’s high expectations for his offspring. As the business grew and my generation came along, the competition increased in magnitude and complexity; across all aspects of our lives including work, play, holiness, studies, and popularity with friends.
You’re given only one chance at life. Where you start, and where you end up are often two different places. It’s up to you to determine what you’re going to make of what you’re given along the way. The stories in this section describe the head start I was granted on my life’s journey and recount the mix of rich experiences, gifts, obstacles, and opportunities I received that shaped the core of my character.