Mike LaMaack began volunteering for the Farm & Home Show 40 years ago. Saturday will be his final show.
How many people have you met that have bicycled 3,200 miles from Anchorage, Alaska to Bemidji, Minnesota?
Probably not many, but Windom’s Mike LaMaack has pedaled every inch of that adventure.
LaMaack is 63 now, and a loan officer at Bank Midwest, but he remembers taking this trip with three friends right after graduating from Bemidji State University. They loaded up a tan 1974 Chevy Impala and built a rack for it to carry four bikes for the road trip to Alaska.
“Then we sold the car for $200 and we didn’t have any choice,” LaMaack says with a laugh.
Bicycles or bust. 40 miles a day; at least 80 days; no hotels; camping at night and making friends; grinding through heat, rain, bugs and potholes; encouraging each other and holding onto small victories; stocking up on peanut butter and rice for stretches where there was no town to stop at for a week.
And commitment is a theme that rises to the surface in talking with LaMaack, along with the perseverance, patience and life skills needed to maintain those long-term relationships.
LaMaack is an agricultural and commercial loan officer. He has been doing it long enough now (40 years) to serve three generations of customers in some of the same families.
He feels proud of that, and to have the chance to build the relationships to help others with their farms and businesses.
“In the banking business,” LaMaack says, “your word is everything.”
LaMaack says he has learned over the years that careful listening and clear communication are vital, and this builds trust.
“It is often better to suggest things to people than to tell them,” LaMaack says. “Just let them know where you stand, but they can decide.”
A big part of banking is also to serve the community, LaMaack says. That’s originally how he began working at the Farm & Home Show.
Farm & Home Show
Windom’s 39th Annual Farm & Home Show is coming up on Saturday at Windom Area High School, and after decades of service, LaMaack is in his last year as chair of the event.
“The show is really our first big spring get together for the community,” LaMaack says.
LaMaack is co-chair with Windom area farmer Mike Wojahn, who will take over the job alone next year. LaMaack committed to supporting and helping organize the show over 30 years ago when it was held at the Armory and called Ag Days. One major draw in those days was a three-meat meal for $1.
“There were lines out the door and down the street,” LaMaack remembers.
The current Farm & Home Show is bigger and centers on both agriculture and home. There will be about 65 booths this year from the local business and non-profit sectors. Also present will be food vendors and educational entertainment like The Zoo Man, who does a show that often includes animals and even snakes, and the children tend to love it. Grain marketing seminars and talks on estate planning are other popular events that have been a part of the show.
As LaMaack has committed to the Farm and Home Show for decades, so he also worked many years in the local Fire Department.
After serving 20 years, in 2013 he retired from firefighting but has many vivid memories. There were some very tough grass and field fires over the years that could only be put out with farmers joining in to plow firebreaks and intercept the flames.
LaMaack sees firefighting as a community service where one can really make an immediate difference.
Out of all the fires LaMaack was called to, he remembers one the most. That business fire at Wood N’ Pallets years ago started from the burning of scrap pallets, but then through sparks and intense heat the blaze transferred to the piles of good pallets and the building.
LaMaack remembers: “That was the hottest fire I have ever seen in my life.”
Thankfully, no life was lost, and the business was relocated.
“Firefighting was gratifying work, LaMaack says, “because you meet people right there in their time of need.”
Family and community
When asked what he is most proud of out of all his personal and professional and community accomplishments, LaMaack answers clearly: “My marriage, and my family.”
He has been married 38 years to his wife Suzanne, 65, and they have two children. Maggie is 33 and works in brand marketing in Manhattan, and Jesse, 32, is a local grain inspector.
LaMaack takes pride in his family, and actually considers his own father, Bud LaMaack, as his role model. He says his dad taught him a great work ethic, and also took the time to hunt and fish together.
LaMaack’s advice to younger people starting out is advice he once took: find something you love, and stick to it. Don’t give up.
He hopes to see the Windom area persevere, grow and keep offering a high quality way of life for the new generations.
“We have to keep trying to figure out ways to keep young people here, or bring them back,” LaMaack says.
Keeping the connections to the past and our roots can be important for any person. LaMaack still gets together a few times a year with two of the guys who once pedaled bikes from Alaska to Minnesota with him.
Another stretch of 40 miles. Keep cranking. One mile at a time until we get there; another good story to share.