Finding courage in the storm of coronavirus

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
Farmers are working hard to provide food, even in the midst of COVID-19.

Courage is contagious. It's grace under pressure. 

As the United States began shutting down and the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin (PDPW) worked against time and a rapidly spreading virus moving across the country to bring the 2020 Business Conference "Focus" to virtual reality on March 18 and 19, Tom Thibodeau, from Viterbo University, provided tips on ways people can fill their cups when life gets rough. 

The definition of courage as grace under pressure "recognizes the significant work of farmers, their families, farm communities and all who are engaged in feeding the world," said Thibodeau, at the recent Professional Dairy Producers® (PDPW) Virtual Business Conference. "Our focus is on the future and an uncertain future is creating fear and anxiety."

Thibodeau told the story of his grandfather, a beef farmer in northern Wisconsin, whose wife died giving birth to their fourth child and his infant son was to be adopted by a childless uncle in New York on the eve of the Great Depression. His teenage son was sent to a monastery to finish his education and his teenage daughter sent to a convent. He was left alone to farm with his 9-year-old son, Thibodeau's father. 

"My story is your story," Thibodeau said. "Our grandparents farmed, worked hard, cared for their families and communities throughout the Great Depression and then sent their sons off to World War II to save the world. Courage is grace under pressure."

Thibodeau compared what is being demanded of people today in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, to what was demanded of people during the Great Depression. 

"They met those demands and challenges, so can we," said Thibodeau.

He provided several tips to help meet those challenges — developing a non-anxious presence, telling the truth and putting people before business.

Calm in the storm

"When the seas are rough, you need a calm hand on the wheel," Thibodeau pointed out.

Thibodeau stressed the importance of taking time in the midst of the storm to "regain a sense of center, that the world is not coming to an end and we have a place in making it better."

He asked those listening who they knew that needed calming, needed to be reassured that life will get better. 


Thibodeau encouraged speaking the truth with love and compassion. He talked of neighbors keeping their word and helping each other. Think of employers having to tell employees there is no work in the midst of COVID-19. Think of doctors having to give a severe or terminal diagnosis to a patient, he said. 

"Tell the truth and people will trust you," said Thibodeau. "Moving forward, as in the past, we rely on each other to tell the truth, we rely on each other because we trust each other."

Guest speaker Tom Thibodeau compared what is being demanded of people today in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, to what was demanded of people during the Great Depression during the recent Professional Dairy Producers® (PDPW) Virtual Business Conference.

The "secret sauce" through any crisis or business deal is trust.

"Let's trust each other to do the right thing. Let's trust each other to look out for each other. Let's trust each other, who are willing to sacrifice themselves to take care of us," Thibodeau stressed.  

People before business

In the weeks leading up to the conference, PDPW worked tirelessly to transform the annual conference into a virtual event with the help of Mediasite Events. While only evident to those behind the scenes or presenting at the virtual conference, Thibodeau said those not in the room wouldn't believe the amount of technology and cables that were laid out to make the event happen.

"All they have thought about is us. How to keep us safe," said Thibodeau. "All that work that was done so we could stay in contact with each other because right now we need each other more than ever before."

There are a lot of people working hard to make sure food and milk are on grocery store shelves.

Thibodeau said his grandfather knew he couldn't take care of an infant son while farming so he allowed him to be adopted by an uncle. "It must have broke his heart, but he did what he knew was best for his son."

Along with all the health care professionals working tirelessly and going home to sleep in garages, basements or tents to protect their families, Thibodeau said think of all the others putting people first. Truckers making sure "that milk gets to market, that cereal is on our shelves, people that are working in packing plants knowing that we need fresh meat and those people preparing vegetables for our consumption."

"Service is love made visible," said Thibodeau. "All those people who continue to serve us in our hour of need. And I tell you, it will only increase."

Getting back to work

Thibodeau's grandfather, after losing his wife, infant son and two teenage children, still had to tend to his cows, grow his crops and take care of his 9-year-old son — in the midst of the Great Depression. 

"Work gives us meaning and purpose," said Thibodeau. "When we have too much work to do, let us be mindful and grateful of the good hard work of others — the warehouse workers, the grocery clerks, the IT specialists, people serving our elders and our homeless brothers and sisters."

The Great Depression and WWII left a legacy of people making sacrifices and holding out hope when they didn't know what the future would hold.

"Now is our time to honor those who have loved us so much, who sacrificed on our behalf," Thibodeau said.

Thibodeau listed three things that everyone will have to confront daily during the national health crisis — fear, lack of focus and fatigue. 

"So much fear and so much anxiety and it's difficult because it's irrational," Thibodeau explained. "The only way out is through, and who do you trust? Those people who tell us the truth and show us the way. We must confront our fears."

With all the information about the coronavirus inundating people, it's easy to become distracted and forget what other people need from us.

"We need to be focused," said Thibodeau. "Focus is an acronym — follow one course until successful."

Everyone will be faced with fatigue and being overwhelmed as we go through the crisis.  Think of the people who are getting no sleep or those who can't get away from anxiety because of what they have to face the next day, Thibodeau pointed out. 

Things that will help in the days ahead include, rest — find a place of peace, rest and calm, look for uplifting moments in the midst of tragedy and remember how important our contribution is.

"Find out what's meaningful in our lives and lift it up. All of us have a responsibility to contribute to a greater good," said Thibodeau. "Think of all of our farmers. We have all kinds of problems in this country, but one of the things we understand right now is we do not go food short. Shelves might be bare, but it's because of the good work done in the fields, that's done in the barns, that's done in production today, that we have enough to eat."

Pointing back to the legacy of generations before us, Thibodeau said, a lot of people are traveling in darkness now, not knowing what to do next or where to go, but now is our time, like our grandparents did, to shine a light for them. 

"Courage is grace under pressure," Thibodeau reminded everyone. 

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at