By Kathi Koegle
Victor Klein has been a farmer for 50 years in Stoddard, Wisconsin, a small town about 15 minutes from La Crosse. This choice of profession dismayed his parents who raised a “city boy,” but he has found great satisfaction in growing corn and hay and raising beef steers. “I also used to raise 500 chickens a year for the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.”
It sometimes comes as a surprise to people that Victor can accomplish as much as he does with vision loss. His is the result of Retinitis Pigmentosa. He was 25 years old before a Madison doctor diagnosed his condition. “Growing up, I had no idea why I kept running into things when I was on my bike and it wasn’t happening to my friends. My vision loss progressed slowly, so for a long time, it didn’t seem to really impact me all that much.” Over time, Victor lost the ability to discern colors and changes in light.
In addition to raising crops and beef cattle, Victor rebuilds starters and alternators on antique tractors, and he does this with feeling in only one of his hands. He sustained nerve damage in a hand while tobogganing many years ago. “I always loved to work with my hands. Farming and repairing farm equipment are a big part of my life. I’m one of the last guys around who still repairs older farm implements and generators.” Another reason this work appeals to Victor is that, because of his vision loss, he can no longer drive farm machinery.
Victor credits good neighbors who keep an eye on him to make sure he’s doing well. “They and my fourth Leader Dog Henry, a nine-year-old yellow lab, take good care of me.”
As an interviewer, how could I not ask Henry a few questions, too?? From him, I learned that he loves waking Victor up each morning and joining him in the barn while he’s cleaning the pens and feeding the cattle. The best part of his job? “Going into town on Tuesdays and meeting people. When we’re at CostCo, Vic and I look for kids so we can teach them a little about service dogs and what it means to live with vision loss.” Henry knows how tempting it is for folks to want to pet him, and he’s often the subject of conversations. “People get so caught up ooh-ing and aah-ing about me to my master, that when they’re on an elevator, they often miss their floor! They really should be more focused.”
Victor learned about the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. He appreciates our large-print calendar which he buys annually, and he has purchased talking clocks, a calculator, colored bump dots, and a memo device to keep track of appointments. “They just make my life easier and they mean a lot to me.”
He has also attended some of the Council’s educational presentations in the Wausau area.
Reflecting on what vision loss has taught him, Victor remarked, “Every day is a new challenge. You can do anything you want if you set your mind to it. I do what I love, and I take life one day at a time.”
Henry just barked in agreement!