That Moment You Realize You’re Not Doing Enough…


“Unity is the beginning of community.”

–     Sandy Teeter Nelson (b. 1944), 2019 WallacesFarmer Master Farm Homemaker inductee

Full disclaimer.  Sandy is my first cousin.  She hosts 42 Stark descendants for Christmas, inheriting that task when Mom got too sick about 20 years ago.  I’ve always thought Sandy was one of the best people in my life.

Turns out, she’s one of the best people in life.  Period.

The Wallaces Farmer is a staple in Iowa, for those who grew up on farms.  The publication’s Master Farm Homemakers is a “hall of fame” of sorts for the women who make the farm economy in Iowa even a little more special than farms anywhere else.  (I’m a native.  I can make that claim without substantiation, ’cause it’s true as heck!)

As I gathered with Sandy’s kids, my sister, brother-in-law and nephew and a half dozen other friends and relatives, and as we all listened to all the things that Sandy has done for others, we in turn looked at one another and said, “Wow.  What have I done with my life compared to that?”

Not.  Much.

I typically don’t do comparisons.  They’re usually pointless and social media makes us feel awful enough about our vacations, cars, restaurant choices (“Oh!  You’re at French Kitchen.  Good for you!”) and all that crap.  Somehow though, I realized in listening to 15 minutes of “Sandy does _______ for people she may or may not know,” and “Sandy does ________, in addition to farming 3,000 acres with her husband, hosting every major family event, never missing a grand kids event….”

  1. Sandy was sort of embarrassed by all the attention.
  2. She’d keep doing it if no one ever knew about any of it.
  3. She’d keep looking for new ways to help.  Someone.  Anyone.  Everyone.
  4. If I started today, and devoted half of every day for the rest of my life to trying to do what she does and has done, she’d still lap me in life.

She’s raised great kids.  She’s a fantastic grandma.  With only one of our mom’s generation remaining, Sandy’s become the unofficial matriarch of the Stark family.  (She wasn’t asked to do that, either.  She just stepped in where her mom and aunt left off…) Instead of (fill in your celebrity Twitter-banger and / or Instagram-bazillion-followers-flash-in-the-pan here) we ought to point the next generation at people like Sandy Nelson.

In her short speech, she talked about others, not herself.  She talked about her kids.  She thanked us for being there.  She said her folks taught her that “unity is the beginning of community.”

Thank you, Sandy, for a lifetime of examples of how to be a Difference Maker.  Of how to put our time and money and effort and focus on the really important, and for leaving no time for anything that seems urgent to crowd out the really important things.  Things like caring first for others.  Things like leaving every place you go better than you found it when you arrived.

Full disclaimer.  Sandy is my first cousin.  She is also a primary role model for me, and I am deeply thankful to have grown up a Stark – Heston.  I’m also deeply thankful to have been in the Des Moines Airport Holiday Inn Friday, for a direct lesson on what I ought to do with the rest of my life, and what I wish I’d have done more of with the part already lived.



  1. Nice tribute, Steve.❤️

  2. Scott Drobny says

    I need to sit down at one of those about once a quarter, because today I’m pushing just a little harder than I would have.
    I have the blood of her, and your mother and father, and my mother and father in my veins… I shoulda aughta done more than I did.

  3. Nice job Steve + San is one special person!

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