LEXINGTON — Asked to make a speech on his 100th birthday, Lexington farmer Sam Harms quickly declined with a wry smile and a wave of the hand.
Asked to tell some stories, though, Harms didn’t disappoint.
“How many people know how penicillin started?” he asked a crowd of about 40 people Tuesday morning at the Prairie Central Co-Op in Lexington. “I was one of the first ones in the USA to be on it. I was in the hospital for three days and had 24 shots, one shot every three hours.”
It happened in the early 1940s, but Harms retold every detail in the story as if it happened yesterday, even describing how after getting his shot one evening, his brother-in-law helped sneak him out of Mennonite Hospital in Bloomington for three hours “because there was farming to be done.”
“We got back and the darned hospital was locked,” he said.
He eventually found an open entrance at the rear of the building, planning to sneak back into his bed without being noticed. He knew it was nearly time for his next shot.
“I got to the first floor and back to my room and there was a woman in my bed,” he said. “I went to the nurse’s station and told them there was a woman in my bed. They asked me what I was doing there. I told them I was a patient. The lady said ‘Well, sir, this is the maternity ward.’
“I guess my bed was on the second floor.”
Friends and family gathered at the elevator Tuesday to watch Harms, who was born on Oct. 17, 1917, drive a 7230 John Deere tractor hauling two wagons filled with grain over the scales as part of his 100th birthday celebration.
“I just don’t understand it, really,” Harms said of the people gathered to watch a 100-year-old man haul grain to an elevator. “It ain’t that big of a deal, is it?”
Harms began working on his family farm in the late 1920s, when he was just a boy. He eventually inherited the farm and then turned over day-to-day management to his children in the 1980s.
Still, he helps out when he can, and even has his driver’s license. He also has the energy, he says, to work every day.
“He is just an incredible man,” said his daughter, Karen Young. “We were blessed to have great parents and this day is special for all of us.”
Also on hand Tuesday was Sam’s wife, LaVerne, who celebrated her 100th birthday March 1. The two were married Jan. 2, 1940, and together they have three children, nine grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
“He’s an unbelievably great guy,” said Lori Harms, a granddaughter-in-law. “Sometimes, when I am around him, I will start talking louder, but he has perfect hearing and will say ‘Lori, you don’t have to yell, I can hear you just fine.’ He has responses for everything and is still very, very sharp.
"I just love talking to him. The entire family does.”
The celebration at the elevator included a green and yellow cake — the colors of his favorite tractor, a John Deere — baked in his honor. An inscription read, “You have seen it all.”
“Yeah, I think I have pretty much seen it all,” he said.
Rita Mikel worked at the elevator for 26 years and saw Harms almost every day during harvest season.
“Sam was first in line and it didn’t matter if we opened at 5, 6 or 7 a.m.,” she said. “He was always first in line.”
Bill Killian worked at the elevator for 41 years.
“I said when he pulled onto the scale, ‘My God, Sam’s made a lot of trips on that scale,’” he said. “It would be impossible to calculate how many trips he has made.
"But the thing about Sam is he is more than just a farmer. He’s just a great guy and a great friend to all who know him.”
Harms says he has no plans to settle down. As for his secret to life, he shrugs as if he doesn’t know.
“I just live it day to day, just like anybody else,” he said. “But I can say this. The good Lord has been taking care of us for over 100 years now and I really appreciate that.”