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2009 Grand Prize - Essay

Courtney Peterson

Scholarship Amount: $5,000

Hometown: Brookings, SD - School: South Dakota State University

On July 12, 2002, I was headed toward the trailer to get my horse saddled and warmed up before the rodeo started. I never made it. My aunt intercepted me between the registration booth and our trailer. My mom had been undergoing treatment for cancer over the past five years, and my aunt informed me that I needed to get to the hospital to see her. After leaving my horse in the care of some friends, we got in the pickup and drove three hours to get to the town my mother was hospitalized in. Getting out of the vehicle and seeing my grandma’s face I knew that we did not get there fast enough. Just a half an hour before we arrived, my father became a widower with four kids all less than 15 years old.

The sight of a deceased parent is one that never leaves the memory. The image of my 7 and 5 year old brothers, Darin and Derek, holding each other as they both look at their mother’s body made even more of an impact. Taking care of things was not new to me and my siblings. When mom started going for treatment, our parents would often leave me and my older brother, Matt, in charge of the farm, while the younger brothers would stay at Grandma’s. At the age of 11 and 13, Matt and I ran the entire farming operation, both of us just able to look over the tractor seat. Looking back I know that without that preparation, we never would have been ready for what happened two Julys later or the financial impact on our lives. Our family always stressed the importance of insurance. Crops, health, and life were all covered by various policies we had.

Mom was diagnosed with cancer when Derek was only 9 months old, and her health insurance helped pay for thousands of dollars of medical bills we would not have been able to cover without it. The year that she died, her life insurance helped prevent our farm from going under. We already had to sell off some land to meet the medical bills. A hail storm tore through South Dakota that summer, destroying acres of crops and paychecks of farmers. Our crop insurance prevented us from going bankrupt like some of the neighbors. The summer of 2002 not only pulled my family through hardship after hardship, but it taught me the value of being prepared for life’s events. I am currently attending South Dakota State University for Agricultural Business, Matt graduated with his degree last spring, and Darin and Derek continue to be active in jr. high. We all have health and life insurance policies and college funds. Without our insurance, we would have never survived 2002. Now we can continue our education, keep farming, and doing what we love. Life teaches hard lessons. I am thankful for having a mother who knew the importance of perseverance and being prepared.

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2009 Top Recipients