The Measure of a Man — Kevin Eblen was 10 Foot Tall

Monsanto's Kevin EblenIt is still a huge shock for me and even as I type, I wonder if some mistake has been made and by the time I go to hit publish, someone will have told me its all a mistake and I shouldn’t worry. But I fear that its true. I fear we have lost one of the truly great people in agriculture much too early. I fear I’ve lost an incredible friend who could make me laugh hard with just a glance or who could challenge me to voluntarily give more when I thought I had reached my max. More importantly, my heart breaks as I think Jacquie has lost her dear husband and their kids lost an incredible dad.

So I write and think. I think of the person named Kevin Eblen I was lucky enough to call friend. And even though I’m not sure whether I will ultimately want to hit publish on this, thinking and writing help me process profound news. And the loss of a guy this incredible is certainly profound news.

When you consider the measure of a man, what really matters? I came up with several factors that really strike me when Kevin comes to mind.

Family

I’m sure if we were to ask Kevin what he was most proud of, he would point quickly to Jacquie, Joseph, Jesslyn, Anthony and Vinnie. No question his wife and kids came first and foremost. Although I got to know Kevin through work, we traveled together a bit and talked about the things that mattered to us. I remember finally meeting Jacquie after having heard stories about how incredible she was and she did not disappoint! He was right, she lights up a room. And he’d laugh about how she puts up with him but you could see no doubt in either of them, together was where they were meant to be.

And I remember lots of conversations in which he smiled big-time as he told me of the latest things Joe and Jess were up to. He loved that the kids were really smart and could ask questions that made him think hard. He knew that daddy’s little girl had his heart & soul and he would melt at the mention. I followed anxiously as he and Jacquie spent time back and forth to Russia where they adopted Anthony and Vinnie. Kevin would draw vivid images for me of these two little guys and their surroundings, their growth and development as they made the transition to the U.S. becoming part of the family so quickly.

More recently, I remember Kevin telling me about how the move to China had been an amazing opportunity for all of the family to grow. How much they enjoyed time together there and the community they were part of. On trips home to the U.S., the stories of four wheeling on the farm and visiting friends and family became the topic of conversation alongside the many things happening around the office. Although lunches or meetings with Kevin were rare, they were always fun and I always got great stories.

Agriculture

Kevin Eblen on a field tour in MississippiKevin would frequently describe himself as a farm kid from Iowa. That he was. Early on, the love of agriculture was sparked and by the time he was in college, he became National FFA President. Over the weekend, friends from Kevin’s FFA days had gotten in touch, some posting a photo of the board and others reaching out to Kevin’s coworkers because they remembered his drive to improve agriculture, to energize it. That drive was recognized just a few years ago as his hometown of Creston added Kevin Eblen to the school’s Hall of Fame. The article described his role in FFA saying:

He served as National FFA president in 1986-87 after serving the Iowa FFA Association as secretary and president the prior two years. At the time of his election, Eblen was only the fourth Iowan to be elected National FFA president, and only the 10th Iowan to serve as a National FFA officer. Eblen took a one-year leave of absence from Iowa State University, where he was majoring in public services and administration in agriculture, to travel throughout the nation, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands representing the 430,000 FFA memberships. While he was involved in several activities in high school, including thespians, 4-H and sports, it was his work in FFA under advisor Galen Zumbach that was most valuable for his eventual career in agriculture business, Eblen said. “No doubt about it,” he said. “Galen Zumbach was the individual who opened my eyes to a lot of things, as far as opportunities in the world and in agriculture. He pushed me hard, and looking back, it was a great thing to do. He and I became great friends. He saw something he believed in, and one thing led to another.”

The Hall of Fame at his high school wasn’t something Kevin expected. He told the paper at the time:

I am certainly honored by it. In reflecting on it, it seems the recognition ought to go to my parents and teachers I had in the community, rather than me. Nonetheless, I am excited about it and we plan on coming. My memories of Creston are fond. There was an unselfish attitude among the teachers, and Larry Osthus was among them. (Principal) Ron Levine and (superintendent) Paul Grumley were also supportive.

Kevin Eblen talking to Tommy Horton about cotton during the Gin ShowI had the chance to work really closely with Kevin as we navigated the merger of Delta and Pine Land Company into Monsanto. The way he focused on developing a thorough understanding of things before deciding the path forward was…. unexpected and definitely appreciated. Not only by the employees but by the farmers we were all serving.  I had the rich experience of working with Kevin throughout this process and although I wasn’t working directly with him as much as he became vice president of public policy & sustainable yield, I found ways to be sure I could stay caught up, and even convinced him to go to the Ag Media Summit with me in 2009. As I played around looking for articles, I found an article & podcast from AgWired where Kevin explained:

What we’re trying to to get the world and the public to see and know is that we have the capability to produce more food and conserve resources at the same time. So we went on record saying in the core crops that we focus on as a company which is corn, soybeans and cotton, that we can double the yields of these crops by 2030 with the starting year of 2000. And at the same time, through the use of technology we have and others’ have, that we could conserve resources by one-third to produce each unit of corn, beans and cotton.

Listening to that interview its clear to me some of the things that drove him to move to work with our business in China and focus on things that could be done in that part of the world. And during his visits home, the enthusiasm with which he spoke of agriculture in China would leave me (and lots of others) captivated. And I was really looking forward to my next visit with him where I’d catch up on China and make sure he knew how I had connected with some extraordinary folks with the FFA in Iowa recently during my first Iowa State Fair and how I’d gotten him a cool FFA shirt that I planned to hand off last week.

Friends & Fun

As one of the many people touched by Kevin, I can tell you, he has had friends as far as the eye can see. Having worked in both Europe and Asia and having traveled the US extensively, I can say he was truly loved far and wide.  That’s something that has been more than apparent in the days since he had a stroke and went to the hospital.

Working with Kevin was fun in and of itself and he made friends everywhere he went. And he absolutely shared the firm belief that work should be something that you relished doing. A place where the people you worked with should be awesome (and we chose well on that).

hanging out with Silky Sullivan on Beale Street

I have to admit to having really enjoyed the opportunity to show Kevin and others with work around my hometown of Memphis. We had the benefit of hanging out with the mayor of Beale Street. And while Kevin would pretend to be insulted that I once walked out of an opportunity to have lunch with him for preciously close to the court seats for my beloved Memphis Tigers, he’d admit I picked well. :)

We shared a love for great guitar music and hearing people play live was certainly a passion we shared. In a strange twist, I have Kevin to think for one of the great concert experiences of my life…. even though he was home in St. Louis with the family. He got me passes to the grand opening of BB King’s Museum which included BB on stage with Keb Mo, Robert Cray, Bobby Blue Bland and Kenny Wayne Shepard. I sent him photos showing exactly how incredible the night was.

Somewhere along the line, we talked about Deep Purple. Kevin loved the blazin’ guitar on “Smoke on the Water.” It has been a ringtone on my phone for years in part because it made both of us laugh when it would ring — something he’d ask about when he’d call no matter how long it had been since the last time we talked.

Kevin & Randy are up to something LOLI have come across people who I knew in the PR world who asked if I knew Kevin. Several of them served on FFA leadership teams, etc with him. I had no idea about all of that til friends would tell me and of course, Kevin remembered them all. I still remember that Ag Media Summit in Texas as Scott Vernon and Kevin recognized each other from decades back. Talking about what was happening in agriculture now and motivating more youth to be involved with projects like I Love Farmers, you could see the sparks flying.

That same energy would come into play anywhere Kevin went. And sometimes it looked like mischief. Really fun, good natured mischief. :)

Faith & an Eye on the Future

In the last several days, faith has given a lot of strength to everyone as we held our breath waiting for good news on Kevin’s condition and waited for Jacquie and the kids to arrive from China. As time passed, we followed his progress and setbacks in the updates from family & close friends. Scores of us clung to the thought that he would recover and we all appreciated knowing that Jacquie and other family members were able to spend real time with Kevin and that they were able to communicate so much. As Jacquie told friends of his passing, she captured his spirit so well saying:

Kevin passed away earlier today. We have been keeping him on life support so he can be a life for others through organ donation. We all know he is determined, a fighter, and smart in knowing how to work through difficulties. He did fight regardless of the pain and frustration,  Unfortunately, his initial injuries were too extensive. I thank God he hung in there so we could talk to him. This took great strength and love. He was a ‘Giver’ to the end.

Honoring Kevin’s Memory

There are so many ideas of things that can be done to honor the memory of Kevin Eblen….. living life and really loving it are not done as frequently as one may think. That’s a big comprehensive one that I think would leave Kevin with no regrets other than he would want more time. But some other, more specific things that I think are incredible to emulate:

  • Make an incredible home and share it with others! Kevin & Jacquie have four amazing kids they brought into their family through adoption. What a great gift to parents and kids!
  • Look at challenges in the world and make a conscious choice to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
  • Make plans, no matter how tough it is to think about, that allow you to keep giving after your death through organ donation.
  • Say a little prayer for the family and friends he left behind.

Updates

I’d like to find a way to capture some of the incredible stories friends have shared to make sure Jacquie and the kids can enjoy them for years to come! If you have stories about or photos of Kevin you would like to share with the family, please get them together and send them to a specially created email for the project KevinEblen@gmail.com. You can send them as handwritten pieces scanned in or typed up — I’ll work with things however you choose to send them.

A memorial fund has been arranged with Merrill Lynch to provide support for education of Eblen’s four young children. Checks can be written to “Merrill Lynch”  specifying “Eblen Family Educational Fund” in the memo field.  Checks may be mailed to:

Merrill Lynch
Attn: Tina Weisenfeld
8235 Forsyth Blvd – 15th Floor
Clayton, MO 63105

Understanding there are lots of ways people may prefer to participate, individuals who prefer to gift stock into this fund or wire transfer funds, can contact Steve Bierschenk for stock or wire transfer information.

I hope you can tell by this post that Kevin was ten foot tall in all the ways that you measure a man…. There is a huge hole where he used to be.

Please note: This is a post for my personal blog and although it includes thoughts from my work, it is just a collection of my thoughts as a friend of Kevin’s. I’m solely responsible for its content. My apologies if there is any conflict of interest…. it is not intended. 

About Janice Person

I'm Janice & this blog is about my passions -- photography, travel, agriculture & whatever else comes to mind. Putting all those things together is intriguing to me…. I can spend a lot of time soaking it up! It's almost always a colorful adventure!

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37 Responses to The Measure of a Man — Kevin Eblen was 10 Foot Tall

  1. Kelly M. Rivard (@KMRivard) September 25, 2012 at 9:21 am #

    Oh Janice, I’m so sorry for the person loss you’re experiencing. While I didn’t know Kevin personally, I wish I could have. He sounds like a wonderful man and a devoted member of the agriculture community.

    Prayers of strength and comfort heading to you, and Kevin’s other friends as well as his family.

    • Janice Person September 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

      Thanks Kelly. I know the family appreciates all the prayers.

  2. Pam Golden September 25, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Excellent tribute to a really good man. As you know, here at home, saying a fellow is “a good man” carries a lot of weight. He was.
    Getting over this loss will take a long time, prayers will be ongoing for all.

    • Janice Person September 25, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Thanks Pam. You know he was a good man for sure and I love how he lived life fully!

  3. Marilyn Hight September 25, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Janice, Thanks for sharing! Kevin sounded like a wonderful gaint of a man! :)

    • Janice Person September 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      The kind of giant that legends are made from.

  4. Alyse Cranson September 25, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Oh Janice this is heartbreaking. I am so sorry for your loss. My prayers for you,and his family. There is definitely a lesson to learn from this. This man, your friend, made his life count. Life is a gift, we should all remember that. I know this was hard for you,but thank you for sharing this.

    • Janice Person September 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

      He made life count everyday with his family, friends, the ag community and more. An incredible lesson to be learned.

  5. Sue Wallace September 25, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Janice – I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my cheeks – you did a wonderful job explaining to the world that didn’t know Kevin who he was. He will be terribly missed by many people – me included.

    Thanks for sharing your spectacular blog.

    • Janice Person September 25, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

      Thank you for the kind words Sue. Terribly missed by so many. My sympathies to you as well.

  6. Christine Hart-Nieland September 25, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    Well said, Janice, very, very well said.

    • Janice Person September 25, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

      Thank you. He was an incredible person…. lucky to have called him friend.

  7. Erin Murty September 25, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Janice,
    My name is Erin Murty, I live in a little town in NE Iowa, Gladbrook. I had the unique opportunity to know Kevin from growing up on a farm outside of Creston, just as he did. You are so correct, he was 10 feet tall and bigger than life. I was a Creston FFA member as well, and looked up to him, enough that I went on to be a district and state officer in Iowa while in high school and college. He was my inspriation even though he had graduated and moved on to college and then bigger things. I even had the opportunity to intern for him for a few weeks one summer while I was interning for Monsanto during college. I too wish it was a bad dream that I would wake up from. I can’t believe he is gone. Thank you for writing such an amazing post about him, he will be missed by so many.

    • Janice Person September 25, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      I am so glad you commented! Not knowing Kevin all those years ago, I hoped the way I captured his awesomeness would resonate for those close to him from home. We are all better off having known him for sure.

  8. Dion September 25, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    One of the best freinds that I will ever have- I miss him so much already that I barely know what to say- but the honor and respect you pay him JP makes me smile. Your words capture what made him great as a father, husband, leader…. and friend! God smiled on us all by giving the chance to know Kevin- some of us even more so by allowing him to be such an important part of our lives.

    Thanks for deciding to post this- I needed it!

    • Janice Person September 26, 2012 at 12:10 am #

      Thanks Dion. I really appreciate the kind words knowing how close you were. I would say we are lucky to have known him, truly blessed to call him friend. Knowing him has certainly made a positive difference for so many of us. And while my heart is breaking at the loss, I keep finding Kevin inspired smiles. If your hear my cell phone ring this week, it is all Deep Purple with images of him air guitaring the song. Priceless. What an amazing person!

  9. Jon Riley September 26, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Janice – As always, you have a perfect way of capturing and expressing what seem to be our many shared thoughts in a very down to earth manner.

    Kevin was a mentor of mine whom I had the honor of calling a friend. He had faith in me at a point in my career when I was a lot less experienced and I had a lot less gray hair. He was and continues to be an inspiration to myself and many other people. Thanks JP.

    • Janice Person September 26, 2012 at 7:05 am #

      His footprints will be around for a very long time because he shaped so many folks. I am sure he has shaped you, me and lots more and we will pay it forward. Thanks for the kind words on the post too Jon.

  10. Deb Lettner September 26, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    Janice, thanks so much for this beautiful reflection of Kevin’s life. I worked with Kevin while I was at Monsanto and I have nothing but good memories and lots of laughter.

    I could have written your first paragraph word for word. I keep thinking there is some type of mistake….miscommunication. Kevin cannot be gone. What a reminder about how short life is and anyone could be taken from us at any time.

    Thanks again for putting down in wonderful words what many of us are thinking and feeling.

    • Janice Person September 26, 2012 at 10:10 am #

      You are welcome! Having published it, I know now how many more people truly appreciated who Kevin was and what he accomplished in his time here. His impact will be felt far into the future.

  11. Steve Joehl September 26, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    Spot on, JP. Your tribute is spot on, for sure. You have him pegged to the max.I have enjoyed his presence at work and beyond, just as so many others around here. It is incredible to me how many lives he has touched. Thanks for putting Kevin’s legacy to words.
    Kevin and his family deserves it.

    • Janice Person September 26, 2012 at 11:07 pm #

      Thanks Steve. Work and the life beyond just so went together with Kevin! The ripple effects will go on forever!

  12. Patricia Smith September 26, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Thanks for the blog, Janice! I have really enjoyed remembering the encounters I had with Kevin, and you certainly captured him just as I recall.

    Kevin was one of those people that really “connects” with people. I remember when he came to Delta and Pine Land during the merger. He sat right down on the corner of the desk in a room full of people and just talked to us “one to one” — right there in that crowded room. He had one of those truly rare presences that evoked immediate trust and friendship, and once you met him you’ll never forget him. What a legacy he leaves behind!

    • Janice Person September 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

      Thanks Patricia! I remember so many of those early meetings in Scott…. even have photos of some of them. What a time we had! And you are right… He connected in real, deep ways so quickly. It was as if he was always a friend.

  13. Mike Gilman September 26, 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    JP Thanks for the amazing story. I went to High School with Kevin. I was in FFA with Kevin. What great memories. I was in Kansas City at the National FFA convention sitting next to Galen Zumbach when Kevin was elected National FFA President. I knew then he would go on to do great things. I hadn’t seen Kevin in a quite few years, but reading your story, I can tell Kevin was always the same great person I remember from many years ago.

    From the comments in your story, Kevin must have suffered a stroke recently? Did it come out of nowhere ?

    • Janice Person September 26, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

      Thanks Mike. I know some friends of Kevin’s through National FFA and as we caught up, they would say he was the same great person he always had been. Kevin would usually say with less hair or something making us all laugh. He was healthy and living a great life up until the stroke. Cherished by family and friends but nobody thought anything was wrong.

  14. Marcia CO September 27, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. I brings back many happy memories. I was a senior in High School the year he was elected National FFA President and had worked with him while serving as a district officer and other various FFA activities. What a wonderful inspiration he was to the Iowa FFA as well as the National FFA. It was an amazing feeling when he was named National FFA President!!

    Thanks again.

    • Janice Person September 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

      You are welcome and thanks for the kind words.

  15. Julie (Christensen) Heiliger September 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm #

    Thank you so much for helping me “catch up” with Kevin since the days when I knew him way back when. I met Kevin through FFA while I was serving as a district and state officer in Iowa and he was “rising through the ranks” on his way to national office.

    Since hearing the sad news this morning, I’ve revisted those days, flipping through the memories that I didn’t even know I had retained. Of all of things I’ve revisted today, I think the thing that I recall most was Kevin’s ability to employ just the right tactic at the right time; a stern glance, a silly story, an inspirational poem, an agricultural factoid–he had them all in his hip pocket and he knew when and how to use them. From rowdy freshmen Greenhands to high-level business executives and everyone in between, it seemed it took him only seconds to walk into a room, read the crowd, capture its members’ full attention, and have them rowing in the same direction in no time. That was 25 years ago at the tender age of 21. I can only imagine how amazing he must have been at 46 doing the same thing as a husband, a father, and a valued member of his company’s leadership team and other organizations.

    Despite the heaviness of the news, you’ve helped bring a smile to my face by prompting me tp remember the young person I knew and get to know the man he became. My heart goes out to his family, many friends, and colleagues.

    • Janice Person September 27, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

      Julie, Thank you so much for the kind words and great description you gave of Kevin…. amazing how he had the innate ability to connect with anyone and everyone, making everyone feel comfortable, happy & successful!

  16. Pam Gray October 5, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    My name is Pam Gray. I am Kevin’s sister. Our family is so touched by your tribute to Kevin.
    We missed him when he was gone from us, but he was always just a phone call away. We always would have liked to have him closer to home, but soon realized he had a much bigger family than just ours. I cannot begin to tell you how kind his Monsanto family and friends have been to our family during this time.

    Kevin was the only boy in our family, and the baby too. He was a brat when he was little, and grew to be a fine man. There were times when we doubted this. He was gifted with our Dad’s BS and our Mom’s determination. Our parents always taught us to treat others with dignity no matter their walk in life and something they taught us by example. This made Kevin accepting to everyone.

    I always told him he was my favorite brother as a joke, because he was my only brother. But he truly is my FAVORITE BROTHER.

    • Janice Person October 5, 2012 at 6:12 pm #

      Pam, Thank you. To know that the family has seem this and felt it was touching…. well, that means SO MUCH!

      Having worked for Kevin for a while, I was really looking forward to his coming back to St. Louis so I could work with him on a daily basis again. He was one in a billion and will be forever missed.

      I so enjoyed getting to meet you all last week…. just hated the reason you were all in St. Louis. I laughed and told your dad that when he sat down across the table at the house, there was that same mischief or something in his eyes. Whatever it is, it makes you enjoy the conversation! And talking with your family, whether it was at the house or funeral home, you guys made me think about different things Kevin would do, say, etc. You are all truly blessed even if this lose is unnimaginable.

      On the sense of humor of his being the only therefore favorite brother…. I can see the way Kevin would greet that… I’m surprised he didn’t brag to me about being the favorite! Sounds like something he would do!

      Thank you again for taking time to comment, for sharing your brother with us and for all the support your family is offering Jacquie and the kids while you face your own terrible grief. You are all in my thoughts daily and I’m sure there are a lot of others sending you healing thoughts as well.
      jp

  17. Tom Johnson October 17, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    I was reading the ISU CALS’ STORIES Online newsletter today and was shocked to learn of Kevin’s death. Like some of the others who have commented, I knew Kevin from FFA when I was a district officer and he was a state officer. Later on, we shared many classes at ISU, as we were in the same major. He was a class act all the way. I stumbled on this blog while looking for more information. Thank you for this tribute.

    • Janice Person October 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

      Tom, Sorry that you hadn’t heard earlier. His family has been very touched by the stories from friends near & far. If you have a few minutes and wouldn’t mind, we are collecting stories of Kevin’s life for his wife & kids to share in the years to come. The kids are aged 6-12 so helping them learn some about Kevin’s awesomeness is a small thing I can help with. If you have stories you think Kevin would enjoy your sharing or photos to go along with them, I’d love you to email them to kevineblen@gmail.com for the book we are doing for the family.

  18. Pam Gray June 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    Hi Janice,
    I was just thinking of you and thought there might be a reason just to say Hey!
    Pam Gray

    • Janice Person June 21, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

      Thank you Pam. I have been thinking about Kevin a lot this week as I attended one of the FFA leadership conferences. Kevin would have loved it. Hope life is good with you.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Year-End Review -- Top 12 Posts of 2012 Plus Some - September 29, 2013

    […] The Measure of a Man — Kevin Eblen was 10 Foot Tall – The fact that my friend Kevin Eblen was loved far and wide was something I’ve known for years. When I sat down thinking about the loss all of us suffered when he died suddenly, it was really me processing the information and grief. I have been blown away by the sense of community that came from my sharing my personal connection & thoughts. The fact that thousands of people read this and that dozens felt compelled to contact me personally was a clear illustration that putting your heart out there can have healing powers. I love that its proved helpful to others, it sure has been for me. […]

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