WASHINGTON — The Zehr family fits the definition of what the Illinois Pork Producers Association wants in its Family of the Year.
Washington residents Curt and Sue Zehr, their three grown children and five grandchildren spend quality time together working on the family pig farm and showing pigs at events such as the Illinois State Fair and North American International Livestock Expo in Louisville, Ky.
Away from the farm and shows, Curt is an active advocate in the pork industry.
Those credentials made the Zehr family a logical choice for the Pork Producers Association's 2017 Family of the Year award, presented earlier this year at the Illinois Pork Expo in Springfield.
Zehr Farms, owned by Curt and Sue, includes 1,700 acres where corn, soybeans and wheat are grown and a 140-sow birth-to-market pig farm specializing in the Duroc pig.
The Duroc is a medium-sized American domestic pig.
"We take pride in producing food, in using the resources that God gives us," Curt said.
He also takes pride in the pork industry, exemplified by his involvement in many local, state and national associations. He's been president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association and the Illinois Duroc Breeders Association.
"My father (Dean Zehr) was involved in the pork industry. He's the reason why I'm involved," Curt said. "If you're going to be a part of this industry, you need to help it. Nobody else is going to speak up for you. You can sit on the sidelines and complain or be part of the solutions of problems."
The EF-4 tornado that roared through Washington in November 2013 sent Curt and Sue to the sidelines temporarily. Their home at 28940 Dutch Lane was destroyed, forcing them to live in Eureka for 11 months while their home was rebuilt.
They moved into their new home Oct. 17, 2014, exactly 11 months after the twister hit. The white, two-story home off Diebel Road can be seen from U.S. Route 24 and is on one of the highest elevations in Tazewell County.
"At night, we can see the lights from the wind farm in Carlock," Sue said.
The Zehrs' hog farm wasn't hit by the twister, but there was damage on land farmed by the Zehrs.
Sue took charge of the details on getting the home rebuilt while Curt focused on the family business.
"I worked at State Farm in claims before I married Curt, so I knew what we needed to do to get our home rebuilt," Sue said.
Despite her background knowledge, it was a challenging 11 months.
"I'm not an emotional person normally, but I became emotional when we received a letter from Chicago with $20 in it," Sue said.
The sender found an address label from the Zehrs in a car windshield.
"Getting that letter made me realize that people in the outside world cared about Washington," Sue said.
Earlier, she learned about farming when she married into a farming family.
"Farm people are some of the nicest people around and farming is a great way of life," she said.
The Family of the Year award is Curt's most recent honor. He was inducted into the Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Illinois Purebred Breeders Hall of Fame in 2016.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.