Long Prairie widow carries on with farming dream

Donna Armstrong finds her purpose every morning when she cares for the animals, knowing they need her.
Donna Armstrong finds her purpose every morning when she cares for the animals, knowing they need her.

By Sheila McCoy, Staff Writer
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Raising cows and calves on their farm by the Morrison-Todd County line was a dream Scott and Donna Armstrong of Long Prairie shared. It was also their retirement plan as both of them worked at jobs outside of the farm.

“Scott always wanted to retire when he turned 45 and for us to spend the winters in Arizona,” said Donna. “He was going to add a place (on the property) for one of our kids to live there, who would look after the animals while we were gone.”

It never dawned on the couple when they went to work the morning of Dec. 8, 2011, that one of them would not return home.

Donna said a police officer, a chaplain and two other people from the company Scott worked for came to the Coborn Cancer Center in St. Cloud, where she works as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and notified her of Scott’s death.

“I knew something had happened, because about the same time that he was killed, I just kind of blurred everything out and said out loud: ‘Something’s happened today that is going to change my life forever,’” she said.

Donna said her co-worker had been surprised by her sudden statement, but as they both had patients to tend to, they just went about their day.

Scott had worked as a crusher operator at a construction materials and contracting company for over 10 years. Handling heavy equipment was nothing new to him. The day he died, he was working on the wheel assembly on a stacker when the hydraulics holding up the loader bucket failed. As a result, the bucket crashed into the wheel assembly, which in turn hit him.

“It nearly decapitated him,” she said.

Scott was only 41 when he died.

Donna said she wondered for many years whether or not he died instantly or had seen it coming.

“Eventually I had to let it go and believe he didn’t,” she said.

Donna said she started searching for a grief support group within two weeks after Scott died.

“I just knew I couldn’t go back to my cancer patients. I actually ended up doing paperwork in triage for a couple of months because I would cry for hours. I just couldn’t stop,” she said.

Donna said she started attending the grief support group, called GriefShare in Long Prairie.

“GriefShare was a very big help. It was fundamental, because I wasn’t really dealing with (the grief),” she said. “I also learned more about the grieving process. You figure being a nurse you know all about the stages of death and dying, because it’s similar to grief, but at the same time, I wasn’t putting two and two together, It actually took me a few years to process.”

When Scott died, the couple was also in the process of remodeling their house. It is a project that is still in motion. Donna said her son-in-law, Tom Evans, daughter, Jessica, her son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Sammi, have helped a lot with the project.

Moving on has not been easy for Donna.

“Life has been challenging. For a while, it seemed like there was no end. It was just one thing after another,” she said.

After Scott’s death, Donna also had to quickly take on many of the responsibilities and chores he had taken care of on the farm.

“The hardest was to learn how to run and maintain all the equipment, like the discbine,” she said. “

Donna said Tom and Jessica, who are experienced working with farm animals and farm equipment, have been a tremendous help.

“They’ve shown me how to run different equipment and also help me with the work,” she said.

Donna chose to carry on her and Scott’s dream and retirement plan. She now raises hay- and grassfed Angus and Hereford beef cattle. She also has four horses, three dogs, a rabbit and some chickens. One of the horses, a 26-year-old, buckskin American Quarter Horse mare named Lady, she holds extra dear to her heart.

“She was my first wedding anniversary present from Scott,” she said. “I hope she lives a long time.”

Despite the heaviness of grief and missing Scott every day, Donna said she finds purpose in getting up every morning knowing that her animals need her and depend on her. Their children, Scott, Samantha, Jessica, Kayla and Cheyene and grandchildren, Cassidy, 8, Scott, 2, Oliver, 3 months, and Brooklyn, 10 days also make life worthwhile.

“The grandchildren are a reminder that there is life and that life still continues,” she said.