By Sara Clausen, Key Cooperative Director of Communications
Amongst fields of corn and rolling hills in Sully, Iowa, sits a charming farmhouse. It belongs not just to a busy farmer, but to an adventurer. Vernon Terlouw has a love for farming—farming the same land as his father and grandfather before him, who served on the founding cooperative board. But he also has the heart of an explorer, and it has taken him across the U.S. and throughout countless countries around the world.
For more than sixty years, Vern has been farming the same land, just a half-mile from his original homestead. In 1962 after serving in the Korean War, Vern came home to farm for good and soon purchased his current farmhouse, which dates back to 1856. He married his wife Gloria, and they had two daughters, Katie and Sarah. Once their daughters came along, Vern and his family took advantage of the downtime before a hectic harvest and went on small vacations.
“I started bicycling at 50,” said Vern. “My daughter Katie, who was 12 at the time, wanted to ride RAGBRAI, so we did it!” After this adventure, Vern was always on his bike, riding it to all nearby communities as his preferred mode of transportation. In 1992, he and his daughter Sarah took a three-week trip to Ireland and rode their bicycles along the western coastline. But he didn’t stop there. At 63, Vern took on an entirely new level of adventure—bicycling over 5,000 miles from California to Washington, D.C. “We crossed 13 mountain ranges, 2 deserts, and over 26 major rivers,” said Vern proudly.
If that wasn’t enough, ten years later at the age of 73, Vern and Sarah traveled to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. In the years to follow, he would also conquer Mount Rainier and the Matterhorn.
At 83, Vern got to experience an adventure with a whole new generation: his granddaughter Johanna. In May 2015, Vern, Katie and Johanna enjoyed a three-week bicycle trip across Spain. Riding nearly 400 miles from Seville to Granada, they saw crop land, but rather than corn, it was field after field of olive trees. Just two months later, Vern was back on his bike, riding the annual RAGBRAI. “I feel so alive when I’m riding a bicycle,” said Vern. “The most beautiful sight on RAGBRAI is watching the sun come up over the misty corn fields.” Shortly after RAGBRAI last year on his most recent adventure, Vern celebrated with a group of 30 friends and rode his bicycle back to Washington, D.C.
Vern considers farming and bicycling forms of adventure, and he is determined to keep doing both. A quote that Vern often refers to is one from Helen Keller: “There is no such thing as security. Life is an adventure or it’s nothing.”