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A life saved, a favor repaid: Bond between Minnesota farmers comes full circle

For years, Charlie Olson thought he'd never repay Brad Bossuyt for a critical favor. Then the roles were reversed.

COTTONWOOD, Minn. — For most of his life, Brad Bossuyt never gave much thought to the work it took to be a good neighbor.

"You just do it," Bossuyt said. "You just go over and help somebody. You go over and help someone in need. That's what we all do."

But when he found himself in need last November, Bossuyt finally realized the power of that unspoken social contract.

"I was trying to put a round bale in a feeder and I got out of the tractor to make some adjustments," Bossuyt said. "Meanwhile the tractor rolled ahead pinched my leg in there."

Brad immediately regretted leaving his phone inside his house, and he couldn't get his dog Zoe to leave his side.

"I tried to pull the old Lassie, 'Go get me help' trick," he said. "But that didn't work."

Brad spent the rest of the evening trying to wave at traffic and cutting the bale that was pinning his leg to the feeder, but after five hours without success, he decided to put his faith in Plan B.

"Plan B was just to save my energy to get through the night," he said. "And wait for somebody to find me."

The next morning, his wait finally came to an end. After 14 hours watching countless cars pass by his farm, his neighbors turned in.

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"My son needed to go for a ride like he does every morning," said Charlie Olson, who lives on the farm next door. "It was snowing hard, it was blowing, we didn't have school that day, and these were all things that had to happen just to have me drive by at the right time."

Olson says he still would have likely driven right by, if he hadn't known a few cows — and one tractor — were out of place. 

"He never leaves his tractor out," Olson said. "I saw a round bale in front of it, and then I looked right through the feeder, through the slots, and I could see him waving. When I saw him waving like that, I knew he was in trouble."

After checking on his neighbor, Olson called 911 and help was on the way.

"It's something I'll never forget," Bossuyt said. "Who it was. The first face I saw."

Olson says he was just happy to repay the favor.

"Fourteen years ago, we had a rough time, we lost a daughter," he said. "And Brad was there for us when we were in need."

Emilee Olson died just a half mile up the road on Feb. 19, 2008, after a minivan sped through a stop sign and toppled a Lakeview school bus. Emilee, 9, was among four children killed in the crash. Many more, including two of Charlie's sons, were injured. 

"When went to Sioux Falls for more surgeries on our sons, Brad called me and said, 'We've got your livestock. You take care of your family.'" Olson said.

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For years, Olson said he felt overwhelmed by Bossuyt's gesture and all the others that followed down the road from the community following the crash.

"Your first instinct is you have to pay everybody back," Olson said. "And the more you think about it, the more overwhelmed you get that I'll never be able to pay everybody back."

It's the same feeling Brad is now trying to navigate. 

Doctors couldn't save the bottom of his leg, so after an amputation and weeks of recovery in the hospital, the Cottonwood community welcomed him home in style. He received an escort from first responders and community members lined the road home with banners of support.  

Weeks later, more than a thousand people showed up for a silent auction fundraiser to help him pay for medical bills and make his home more accessible.

Bossuyt is still working to walk again, and in the meantime, he's glad to put in the work required to be a good neighbor.

"I hand-wrote many 'Thank you' cards," he said. "If it wouldn't be for the cards and letters and the support, who knows where we'd be sitting today."

But there is one 'Thank you' he'll never need to write.

"We took care of it with a pat on the back," Olson said. "We don't want to get too mushy here."

The two neighbors are now all square, and more connected than ever.

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"Nobody is keeping score," Olson said. "What goes around, comes around, unfortunately or fortunately, sometimes."

Both Bossuyt and Olson are former volunteer firefighters for Cottonwood, and they credit the paramedics and fire department for performing such a complicated and successful rescue that morning.

Brad says the community fundraiser has already helped him afford a state-of-the art prosthetic leg, keep up with medical bills and make his home more accessible. 

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