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Freedom, Farming and Family Inspired Bever


by Bev Berens

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017

The toolshed wall facing the road is a tribute to those who served their country in the military. Don Bever's livestock trailer has the same silhouette tribute—a soldier, kneeling at a headstone cross, weapon and helmet close and ready.

"When you go to war, somebody dies. Your chances of being that somebody are pretty high," Bever said, not wishing the experience of war on anyone.

The Delton, Mich. resident is a Vietnam veteran—not by choice, but by the luck of the draw that all young men were subjected to at the time—the draft. He did not want to be there and claims there are spur marks in the tar left from when he was forced to leave home.

Bever's life was interrupted at age 19. He knew who he was going to marry. He knew where he was going to farm. In fact, the farm purchase plan was already in the works when Uncle Sam called. He spent a total of 21 months and one day in the army. Fifteen months and one day of that were spent in Vietnam, volunteering to stay an extra three months just to get out early.

Because of an injury, he was trained for cook and clerk duties, but never did any of that. Planes, choppers and bullets greeted him upon landing at his new home in Vietnam, where he was immediately escorted into combat. Because he was a survivor—someone who could find his way back alive—Don was sent on numerous top secret, off-the-books missions.

"God takes care of fools and idiots," he said.

Judy, his fiancé at the time, and now wife of nearly 50 years, spent time every day writing to Don from her dorm room at Western Michigan University. The letters he wrote to her and his mother avoided most of the details of each day, each mission.

A New Testament Bible journeyed through Vietnam tucked in his front pocket. A photo of Judy, his parents and friends are paper- clipped inside. Yellowed news articles from Stars and Stripes are folded between pages. A blackened rubber band that held his Bible together lies between two pages. Tally marks on the rubber band counted down the days left before going home.

Home.

The day finally arrived and two months later, Don and Judy married. Don confessed to his fiancé that he wasn't the same person that left less than two years earlier, giving her the option to get out. She declined the offer, and the two bought their first land and started milking cows together, although not on the farm he was trying to purchase before duty called. However, the farm of his dreams came back up for sale a few years later. They bought the land, living and farming there to this day. The life he had always dreamed of materialized, despite a two-year delay in the plan.

Don and Judy have five children—Shelly, Donny Jr., Jeffery, Rob and Ben. All worked on the farm as youths, and Rob is now full- time with his father. Sixteen children call Don and Judy Grandpa and Grandma.

The couple's hard work, grit and survivor attitude guided Shady Acres Farm to flourish and grow to 500 rolling acres in Barry County. Antiques and collectibles gathered by the couple embellish the house and farm buildings—a testament to the zest for life and experiences that Don has held since his return from military duty.

"God has blessed me more than I deserve," he said.

Along with the blessings came memories that surfaced, often in the night. The effects of PTSD, getting hit with agent orange, and the scars of war visited regularly, but are now rare after nearly 50 years.

Don and his wife enjoy life and make friends wherever they go, taking trips to the Denver Stock Show each winter, collecting antiques along the way. Don has driven his antique tractor across Mackinac Bridge ever since the tractor parade began about nine years ago. Rustic camping in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and visiting Mackinac Island with friends are favorite past times. He also served on the Michigan Milk Producers advisory board for approximately 40 years, developing close friendships along the way.

Bever does not wish to be singled out or in the spotlight because of his military service, and mostly avoids talking about the experience at all. Despite performing secretive and dangerous missions, he claims he is no hero and does not wish to be identified as such, but rather identified as a successful, hard-working farmer and family man who did what he had to in order to get back to his dream of farming and family.

One thing he believes all Americans should know is that someone devoted their time, and frequently their life, so that other Americans didn't have to.

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