Walt Bussey kept his Aunt Katie Jacobs' leather work boots when she moved into a nursing home eight years ago, hoping she would one day return to the family farm to wear them again.
Katie was more like a sister than an aunt, said Walt, who spent a lot of time on his grandparents' farm near Council Bluffs, where Katie lived. Together, they helped milk 155 dairy cows twice a day, a chore that produced Grade A milk for the Marigold dairy in Council Bluffs for years.
Even when the family stopped milking and the cows were sold, Katie continued farming, hiring local growers to custom plant and harvest corn and soybeans on her family's nearly 140 acres.
Born in Council Bluffs in 1923, Katie lived most of her life on the family's dairy farm, first with her parents and later with her sister, Martha Jacobs, until Martha died 14 years ago. After a bad bout with shingles eight years ago, Katie moved into the Risen Son nursing home where, at 96, she died from COVID-19 on July 22.
In earlier years, Katie could be found most weekends mowing the 2 acres around the family house, a chore she kept up until she was 89, doting over her Cub Cadet riding lawnmower all those years, said Cindy, Walt's wife.
"She kept refurbishing it and refurbishing it," Cindy said. Guys from a local repair shop "would just come out and get it if something broke down."
Katie could "make anything," crocheting doilies and making dolls for friends and family, Cindy said.
"She was very, very talented," she said.
The lifelong farmgirl also loved to reminisce, added Cindy, who, after 45 years of marriage to Walt, considered Katie her aunt, too. A favorite memory of Katie’s was working with her mother, Sophie Jacobs, to whip up epically large lunches for the workers baling their hay.
Katie was sharp, too, managing the farm's books all her life, Walt said.
A kind, soft-hearted woman with a dry sense of humor, Katie loved to shop, priding herself on wearing fashionable clothes, shoes and jewelry, Cindy said.
"She was very classy, very stylish," she said.
When Lacce Walker, a Risen Son worker, first met Katie, the farmer’s daughter who didn’t mind milking cows or throwing on muck boots to get done what needed doing was wearing "sparkly leopard print shoes, a flower clip in her hair, and had just gotten her hair done."
"I told her how lovely she looked and her face lit up," Lacce wrote on Katie’s tribute wall, adding that she came to “adore” Katie.
Though she never married, Katie had more friends than most — a fact made plain when the Busseys helped throw her a 90th birthday party.
"We ran out of cake within the first half hour,” Cindy said. “So many people came to see her — a lot of farmer friends, people from school. It was fun."
Iowa Mourns is a series of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, the environment and energy for the Register. Reach her at email@example.com or 515-284-8457.
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