HECTOR, Minn. - When farmers leave home in their pick-ups, John Deere dealers cast hopeful smiles. But if you see Jerry Johnson on the road to Hector on a Monday, you can bet he isn't making a run for tractor parts or fertilizer. Monday is "J" day. "J" - short for Justin and Justin is Jerry's grandson.
Jerry picks up Justin at his group home every single Monday. But in truth, Jerry has been picking up Justin every day of his life. "It just never intimidated him," said Justin's father Randy. "He didn't judge him. He was free to be Justin and he loved him through it."
Doctors told Randy and Sara Buboltz their first child likely had a stroke while he was still in the womb. That's why Justin grew up with limited movement on his left side, and limited ability to learn. "School was tough," said Jerry, "early on they told his mother that he probably wouldn't be able to read or write. He can pick out some words." What Justin couldn't have picked out with a PhD is a more perfectly suited grandpa.
Mondays on Jerry's farm have given Justin time for endless rounds of barnyard golf, rides on an old Honda three-wheeler and the freedom to farm. On a riding mower his grandpa found with right hand controls, Justin spends hours cutting the sprawling lawn on Jerry's farm. "I think he's just proud that he can do it," Jerry says. "You can see how he's concentrating out there." Justin's younger brothers can drive the tractors and trucks, but the lawn belongs to Justin. "Justin loves the farm. If he had his choice he'd be a farmer, there's no doubt about that," Jerry says.
Which is why Justin's family dreaded the day everyone but Justin knew was coming. That day several months back, when Jerry called the real estate agent to sell the farm so he could retire to the lake. "Having three daughters, there was no son to take over the place," Jerry said.
Selling a family farm is never easy. But so much worse, now that Jerry's farm in a way had become "J's" farm too. Sometimes when life's challenges seem hardest to overcome, a door opens. "I had just finished talking to my dad," recalls Sara, "and he told me that yep, they were going to have to sell the farm, and it was like God just dropped it in my heart."
That instant Sara realized Justin didn't have to live at a group home in town. They could start their own home for young adults with special needs, right on the farm. On Memorial Day in 2007, with family gathered around, Justin was shown the new mailbox at the end of the driveway. The mailbox that now reads "J's Farm." "You better see if you got any mail," said Jerry to his grandson. The card inside the mailbox contained a poem written to Justin by his mother. "You heard me right oh farmer "J,"" Sara wrote, "we're here to share with you.
The dreams God placed inside your heart are ready to come true." Justin's parents put together the whole deal: the purchase of the farm from Jerry, the contract with REM South Central Services to run the group home, where Justin and three other young adults will live under supervised care. "Do you get it? This is where you're going to live," said Sara to Justin before her son was consumed by a round of family hugs. "There are a lot of kids that maybe don't even have a disability, and this would be their greatest dream," said Randy. Now Justin won't have to care for his grandpa's lawn anymore. He'll be way too busy mowing his.
Update: since this story first airing on KARE 11 in 2007, J's Farm has become home to three special needs men, Justin among them. Justin is still in charge of the lawnmower, in fact his dad recently replaced its motor, after 1600 hours of use.
For more information on REM South Central Services click here: www.remminnesota.com
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