We all lost a great friend this past week, Mark Pearson.
We all lost a great friend this past week. Mark Pearson, the host of Iowa Public Television's "Market to Market" program aired around the country, as well as the host of "The Big Show" daily farm radio program in Iowa, died suddenly of a heart attack at his farm in southern Iowa on June 3rd. He was 54 years old.
Mark was a friend of agriculture and of anyone he ever met, even if it was only in passing at one of the many events where he spoke each year. He was on the road to speaking engagements almost every week of the year. In addition to the radio and TV work to go along with the speaking gigs, he also operated an Edward Jones office in Winterset, Iowa. That kept him on top of all things financial. Just when you thought his plate was full enough, he found room for more. Mark had a diversified farm in southern Iowa, too, where he raised crops and livestock over the years.
Mark's most important crop was his family, though. His four children and his wife, Eden, still managed to spend a lot of time with Mark as he did all the things on his To Do List. They were his pride and joy. I saw that firsthand when I stopped by his farm for a visit a few years ago. I had been in central Iowa with The GuyNo2Mobile to visit some other friends and mentioned to Mark that I may be around his part of the country if he was free. He told me to stop by his office in downtown Winterset, which I did. We sneaked away to a local restaurant to grab a bite to eat. On our way back to his office, Mark asked if I had time for a quick trip out to the farm. His last calf of the season had been born that morning, according to his son, who was at home taking care of the herd that day while he worked on a book project, and Mark wanted to check it out for himself as part of my tour.
That's when I decided to make things interesting. Rather than heading for Mark's vehicle (which, I, as a person who shops at Omar's For The Obese & Gangly Gentleman, was afraid may be the Mini Cooper Mark liked to drive), I suggested we could take my vehicle. That's when I mentioned that I had the dune buggy with me. It took only fractions of a second for Mark to decide the buggy would be the best way to do the trip. We went down the street and climbed into the buggy to head out to the farm. Since we were essentially in downtown Winterset, we couldn't sneak out of town unnoticed. We went through the downtown district more or less in parade mode as Mark waved and hollered at everyone on the street—if they didn't wave and holler at us first. Mark was loving every minute of it, as you can see in the photo of him and The GuyNo2Mobile.
You would be hard-pressed to find someone better informed on a wide range of topics in agriculture as Mark Pearson. If he didn't have firsthand experience with a topic, he knew where to find an expert to get him informed. That was always the best part of listening to “The Big Show” on WHO and WMT Radio each weekday. You might hear a phone call from a producer in one part of the state talking about crop conditions or a livestock issue, and then you'd hear from the USDA Secretary of Agriculture a few minutes later. Mark could transition from one to the next and make everyone feel at home with the discussion. You felt like you were talking to Secretary Vilsack yourself, or you got to hear about the latest pest to invade a field of alfalfa in northeast Iowa before you found out from the guy way up the food chain in the oil business what to expect from the price of diesel fuel in the coming weeks. Mark was on top of it all.
I got know Mark Pearson much better after an email exchange several years ago. He would issue what he referred to as a "Mark Pearson Hay Advisory." People would get in touch with the show to see if the weather forecast was suitable for making hay. When sunshine, wind speed, humidity and rainfall forecasts combined favorably, Mark would issue his alert similar to the way that the National Weather Service issues weather warnings. When you were under a Mark Pearson Hay Advisory, it was safe to cut hay and get it made in good shape. I did just that and sent along an email with photos to “The Big Show” staff members to let them know their help was appreciated.
Mark sent me a reply during the market segment of the next day's show. He and I exchanged emails during the show ever since. Sometime he needed a name to connect with a product or a procedure. Sometimes he needed a peanut gallery to comment on what happened during the show. His cellphone and email were always close by, so I knew he'd get the messages almost instantly. A steakhouse in Texas had a 72-ounce steak it was serving to customers. If you cleaned your plate in a given period of time, you got a prize of some kind. Mark got a grocery store in Des Moines to cut a 73-ounce steak for him to grill to show that we're serious about beef in Iowa, too. He invited Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey to join him for the event and grill the monster steak. It went well, but they felt a catchy name for the steak would help. I quickly sent an email to Mark with one option. Moments later, he chuckled and told the Secretary, "We have a name for our steak, Bill. It comes from our good friend Jeff Ryan, in Cresco. He's Guy No. 2 of the Two Guys Farming enterprise. He suggested we call it the Northey-Pearson Petite Sirloin!"
When you could get Mark to laugh on the air, it didn't get much better than that.
I was seated at the table in the middle of an Age & Source Verification review with a US Premium Beef representative one morning when my cellphone rang. I had forgotten to switch it to the vibrate mode. The caller was a number from central Iowa I didn't recognize, so I answered it with my standard "Hello, this is Jeff."
"Jeff, this is Mark Pearson," said the voice at the other end.
"Oh. Hi, Mark, how are you?" I replied trying to gather my wits.
"Well, I'm clinically obese, Jeff," came the instant retort from my not-so-tiny friend.
"Okay. What can I do for you, Mark?"
"Well, there's not much you could do for me, but "I" could put down the fork and maybe back away from the plate more often!" Mark exclaimed with clear conviction.
We were only seconds into the phone call, but it was like we'd been rehearsing our Abbott and Costello routine for years.
"Listen, I love these goat socks you sent me and I want to have you on the show today to talk about them," Mark explained. "These things are just outstanding! I mean, I've been wearing them for chores for several days and they're the best socks I've ever worn. We'll probably have you on around 12:40 or 12:45. Let me give you a couple phone numbers you can call in and get to the studio line."
That's how my first public advocacy of goat socks happened. Mark has been one of their most vocal supporters ever since. If he liked you and your product, you wouldn't find a better supporter. (See "The hair of a goat.")
When it was time for me to get married in January 2011, my bride and I decided to keep things small and quiet. We would be married in a small, private service at The World's Smallest Church near Festina, Iowa, about a half hour away from where we live. The church holds eight people, so the guest list had to be pretty short. The topic of discussion that day on “The Big Show” was whether or not there were any yaks in the state of Iowa. I don't remember how the discussion got started, but Mark was into it with both feet, so I knew he was in the studio and totally into the day's show, not phoning in part of it from an airport somewhere on his way to another speaking engagement. A neighbor of mine has some Scottish Highlander cattle. I always kid his children about the Highlanders actually being yaks, so I emailed some photos of the cattle to “The Big Show.” Mark and his co-hosts loved the photos.
When 1:00 rolled around and the show was over, it was time for me to hit the road and go to the church. I decided to let Mark in on a little secret. I told him where I was headed and what I was about to do. He replied moments later and was thrilled. He wanted to know if he could "yack" about it on the show the next day. I told him to hold the info for a couple days until I got the story written to send to the people who read my column. Once that story was sent a few days later, Mark was given clearance to say something on the air. I put my Flip video camera in front of my computer speaker that day and recorded Mark's announcement. Here's a link: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwtfD0QrnXE.
A few months before that, I had been asked by an Iowa State Extension Service Area Beef Specialist to be a speaker at the Corn Belt Cow-Calf Conference in Ottumwa, Iowa. He wanted me to cover some of the things I do in my beef operation. I agreed to the event, not knowing much about it. When my folder of information showed up a few weeks later, I discovered who the emcee for the multi-day event in February would be: Mark Pearson!
Sherill and I got to the building the morning of the opening session and got our registration info handled. Then it was on to the big auditorium for the keynote address from our esteemed emcee. Mark was standing in the doorway of the auditorium, personally greeting each person as he/she walked in to find a seat. Sherill was ahead of me and had never met Mark, but she knew a lot about him from my stories and what she had seen and heard on the air already. She was ready to anonymously shake his hand and was ready to move quietly into the auditorium when I leaned forward and said in a loud whisper, "Mark, this is MRS. Guy No. 2!"
That lit the fuse on the Pearson Powder Keg. Mark instantly switched to his outside voice and gave Sherill a bear hug. "Oh my gosh, PRAISE THE LORD, IT'S MRS. RYAN! It's so good to meet you! We thought he was going to be single FOREVER! We're so glad he finally found someone! WELCOME TO THE FAMILY!"
Sherill turned the deepest shade of red. She really wanted to crawl into a hole and hide about then. We took our seats in the auditorium and Mark began his presentation. A couple minutes into it, he said he runs into all kinds of great people throughout the day, "and you know, one of my favorite ones is here today. He's a speaker, in fact. He's a guy by the name of Jeff Ryan from up there in northeast Iowa. Jeff, stand up so people can see you. And he recently got married, folks! Sherill, stand up so everyone can see you. Ladies and gentlemen, it's the lovely Mrs. Ryan!"
(Listen to how he described "the only gag order [he had] ever observed" at youtube.com/watch?v=0mL9VNdxiRk&feature=relmfu.)
The Iowa State Extension guy who set up the meeting came up to me afterwards and asked, "How much did you have to pay him to give you an introduction like THAT?!"
That's how it works when Mark Pearson is part of your life. He keeps you informed. He keeps you entertained. He keeps you thinking. Most of all, he always keeps you smiling and laughing the whole time. That's what I love the most about him.
How could you do life much better than Mark Pearson did? Few have and few ever will. If I ever grow up, I think I want to be Mark Pearson.
Thanks for taking me along for the ride, Mark. I'll miss you, buddy.
Guy No. 2
To view a compilation of video and thoughts produced by Iowa Public Television for last week's episode of "Market to Market," click below: