Editor’s Note: This piece was previously published as part of a harvest traditions section of the Voice News of Southeast Nebraska.
BENNET, MAY 2004 – The worst of the tornado missed the Ringland family farm by less than half a mile; winds scattered farming debris across the Ringlands’ land, but their home escaped major damage. Unfortunately, the Ringlands’ neighbors, the Kings, weren’t so lucky: they returned home to a destroyed house.
“They didn’t have no place to stay,” Leonard Ringland, 77, said. “Their home was gone, so they stayed with us until they could find a place to rent.”
The Ringland’s first clue that something was wrong was the power, Leonard said. On their way home from the state track meet, they passed the Country Bible Church, where the lights were still on. Back at the farm, however, their house had no electricity.
Then the phone calls came.
“There were probably 10 or 12 of us that went [to the King’s house] that night and gathered up what we could in the dark,” Leonard said. “I think we all got to bed by 2 or 3 a.m., and then we started again the next day.”
According to Leonard, the tornado hit several Bennet farms. One by one, the community gathered and cleared each other’s fields.
“The community just helped each other, that’s all there was to it,” Leonard said. “We had to.”
The Ringlands have always been connected to the community: from coaching Little League teams to cleaning up after tragedies to being active in the church.
Seven miles northwest of the soybean fields is Bennet’s Country Bible Church. Leonard’s father-in-law Everett Wissel donated the land for the current building nearly 40 years ago.
According to Leonard, the church originally met in a small schoolhouse two miles southeast of its current location. As the congregation grew, they wanted to build a separate building but needed land to make it happen. Everett stepped forward, offering five acres of his family land on which to build the church.
“I was the youngest first Sunday member,” Scott Ringland, Leonard’s now 41-year-old son, said. “It always felt like 115 degrees, and there was no air conditioning. They had a trailer house they used for the kids. Pretty primitive, but it worked and it took off.”
The Ringlands continue to attend Country Bible Church today. Scott and his wife, Katie Ringland, help run the Approved Workmen are not Ashamed program (AWANA) for the church youth.
“The Ringlands are a welcoming, loving, God-centered family that has the passion to feed the world and help out its community in any way,” Zach Spencer, 29, said. Zach is the Ringlands’ hired hand, but the family considers him one of their own.
Kindergarten sweethearts Leonard and Carol gave birth to three children in Bennet. The youngest, Scott, works on the farm with his father. The two eldest daughters, Michelle and Melissa, have since moved away from the farm, relocating to Omaha and Kansas City respectively. Scott and Katie have two young daughters of their own.
“We’ve always lived here,” Leonard said with a laugh. “When I first met Scott’s wife, she told me, ‘Scott said don’t plan on ever moving away from Bennet.’”
The Ringlands have lived in Bennet for five generations and are not planning on leaving. According to Scott, they can’t imagine living anywhere else.
The farming tradition has passed through many hands. Generations ago, two separate families were farming in Bennet. Frank Stiver and James Ringland oversaw their respective family operations. Their children, Bertha Stiver and Earl Ringland, eventually got married.
From there, the farming tradition passed down the line of Ringlands; from Earl, to Wendell and LeRoy, to Leonard and now to Scott.
“Agriculture, as we all know, has its ups and downs,” Leonard said. “But, I would hate to be locked up in an office. I don’t ever want to be in an office where I just see four walls every day.”
For a time though, it was necessary to achieve his dream of farming.
“I’d work for Far-Mar-Co for eight hours a day, and then I’d come home and farm,” Leonard said. “I’ve always wanted to farm. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have worked so hard at one job and then come home and worked later at another job.”
Eventually, he was able to rent some extra land in Bennet and commit to farming full-time.
“Life certainly isn’t all about money. If it was, you wouldn’t want to be a farmer,” Leonard said. “It’s about enjoying what you’re doing and being with people you care about.”
From a young age, Scott’s passion was actually aviation rather than farming, and he left his hometown to pursue it, graduating from Grace University with a Bachelor of Science in Aviation in 2001.
“When Sept. 11 happened, aviation was down pretty hard for the next couple of years,” Scott said. “That’s right when I was trying to get into the industry, as far as flying goes, and that didn’t work out.”
Scott stayed in Omaha, picking up odd jobs around the city before landing a position chartering airplanes for Elliott Aviation.
“I had a hard time finding a whole lot of fulfillment in what I was doing. I like doing jobs where you can see progress,” Scott said. “I like the challenge of farming; every year is different. You can always learn something.”
Searching for that sense of fulfillment, Scott returned to Bennet in 2005 and, it turned out, he wasn’t the only one.
In 2015, Zach Spencer’s parents moved from Colorado to Omaha, although Zach was attending college in Minnesota at the time. As a Christian family, they were looking for a new church and ended up attending a service at Country Bible Church in Bennet, where they met Leonard and Carol.
After a football-related injury, Zach left college and moved to Lincoln. He had worked on a farm in the past, and the Ringlands were searching for extra help during the harvest season. They extended an offer and Zach officially joined them for the 2016 harvest, working with the family for three years before returning to school.
Zach graduated from Northeast Community College in 2020 with a degree in Animal Science. Instead of returning to Bennet, Zach chose to work for Farmers Edge in Sidney.
“In the middle of the summer, Scott called me out of the blue,” Zach said. “He told me they’d been thinking about me and that they wanted me to come back and help or have a different venture in the family farm.”
Zach returned to Bennet for the 2021 harvest and plans to stay as long as he can. No matter how long it takes, it seems the Ringland family, and their adopted members, always come home: to Bennet, and to the farm.
“If farming was easy, everyone would do it,” Scott said. “We stick together and forge ahead.”