Arnold Stout, 94, successful as lifelong farmer despite physical impairment
Arnold Stout rises before the sun and gets a jump-start on the day, preparing a variety of fruits, vegetables and flowers for sale.
Just weeks away from his 95th birthday, his age isn't the only thing that separates him from other local farmers.
He has been without his right hand and entire left arm for 55 years. In their place are two prosthetic hook devices, which he can use for simple tasks and tending to his crops.
“I still shake hands with everyone," Stout said, pausing in search of a complaint regarding his misfortune. "Being handicapped doesn’t bother me much. I think the worst thing is when people pull up and load up their cars out front without paying. They’ll load up their car and zippity-good, they’re gone!”
Stout receives assistance getting dressed, brushing his teeth, bathing, cooking and other household chores from his caregiver of almost 10 years, Remus resident Kathy Leiter, 67.
With the ability to grasp silverware or a glass in his right hook, he can feed himself if a dish is prepared for him. Without Kathy's cooking, the sweet-toothed man will settle for an oatmeal creme pie for dinner.
In addition to household assistance, Stout also receives help from a local school bus driver, Karen Stevens, potting and planting his array of crops growing on his front lawn.
A homemade “Flowers For Sale” sign sits on Stout’s front lawn, flagging down potential customers driving down 9 Mile Road on the outskirts of Remus.
The driveway up to his two-car garage separates the potted flowers from his premature fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Stout's best-seller, the gladioli, sit in individual milk cartons along a table in his garage, overflowing with color.
He also grows dahlias, iris and daisies, in addition to his squash, sweet corn, mushmelon and watermelon.
Stout’s daughter, Hesperia resident Diane Herin, visits weekly to help pay bills, to take him grocery shopping and to drive him to his nearly regular chiropractor appointments and occasional medical appointments.
One of Stout’s four children, Herin said her father isn’t much different from your average 90-year-old.
“My father-in-law is 93," she said. "They both have trouble getting out of a chair, both get around pretty well and both of their minds are pretty good, most of the time."
Losing his hands
Stout lost his right hand in the fall of 1952 in a corn picker. Six years later, while using his new Allis Chalmers chopper and blower to fill a friend’s silo, the machine jammed.
“I shut the machine off, pulled the corn stalks out and started it back up,” Stout said. “But when I threw the armful of stalks in, just like that, I was in the machine.”
Stout was lucky enough to catch his foot on the tractor’s wheel to stop himself from being pulled completely into the machine. He was trapped for what he said felt like an hour until his hired help showed up.
Looking up to the sky, Stout said he prayed for help.
“I said, ‘Lord, I need your help,’ and the pain stopped. That is a fact,” Stout said. “When (the hired help) got there, the machine was still running, and he turned it off. My arm was gone, my jacket was in the pickup and the silo was filling. I backed out and said, ‘I guess you need to take me to Lakeview (Hospital).”
With the help of a former military doctor who had treated patients missing limbs, doctors at Lakeview Hospital performed surgery on Stout, mending his arm at the shoulder.
After he had healed, Stout received a prosthetic arm with a hook similar to the one replacing his right hand built with straps connecting the two across his back. He is able to open and close his left hook by flexing his shoulder muscle.
“I went back to Ann Arbor where they showed me how to use them, and the nurse would bounce a ball off the wall and I would grab it,” he said. “She said she never saw someone work it so fast.”
Back on the farm, Stout was able to drive his tractor and pickup truck by installing a steering hook on each. He needed to hire help with a lot of the farming, but he could still do his share.
“I just kept on farming. It didn’t slow me much,” he said. “I got right back on the tractor and combine. I thought I could keep on going as I was.”
Using his prosthetic hands to secure his tools, he can tuck the handle of his hoe or rake under his right arm and continue to work his land.
Though his speed and production have declined over time, Stout hasn’t let his age or physical handicaps hold him back from doing what he loves.
Farming is a lifestyle
Quitting farming never crossed Stout’s mind. It’s all he knows.
His earliest memories date back to when he began picking cherries as a five-year-old boy on his father’s farm.
“Grandma and Grandpa Stout had a farm, and they let dad have it,” Stout said. “Grandpa Stout had great hired help at 50 cents a day, and I was some of his hired help.”
By nine-years-old, Stout was milking cows and running the cherry orchard for his dad.
His skill and the high demand on his family’s farm forced him to leave school after 8th grade, working full-time in the fields.
"(Dad) didn’t like horses or cows; he didn’t like nothing," Stout said. "I started working on the farm because my dad bought 80 acres and didn’t know about farming.”
Stout wanted to stay in school to further both his education and promising pitching career.
“I’d have been a farmer either way, but I would have played baseball on more teams,” he said. “I was known all over for playing baseball.”
In 1941, Stout left the Michigan National Guard, married his wife Hilda and bought 40 acres of land to begin rebuilding the mess of a farm that sat upon it.
Hilda had farming experience of her own, growing up on a farm near Lake Charlevoix.
“My wife and I went together for a year and 10 months before we got married,” Stout said. “She liked flowers real good, and she was so good with customers. People just liked to buy stuff from her. She had an awful good personality.”
Stout installed all-new, siding doors and a new roof on the barn and fixed up the house by adding a bathroom, two bedrooms and a stone fireplace.
“Then I kept buying more farms and buying more farms, and I kept adding to it and adding to it,” he said, drawing out a map of the farm on his table with his right hook.
Fruit made up the majority of crops on Stout’s farm, including sweet cherries, pears, plums, peaches and apples. He also grew corn and raised beef cattle.
At his peak, Stout’s farm stood 800 acres strong. He passed it on to his son Duane in the early 90s after his wife began a bout with Alzheimer’s disease. She died in August 2005.
“Hilda was losing her memory, and she couldn’t handle things anymore,” Stout said as his voice began to shake. "She was in Altercare for three years and three months, and as busy as I was then, I spent every Monday and every Friday with her in Big Rapids, and it was 30 miles to Big Rapids."
Today, Stout spends his time farming on his Remus property and watching the Detroit Tigers.
With his birthday around the corner, Stout has his eye on retiring when he reaches his 100th birthday.
"In five years, I'm going to retire to pursue a new hobby: chasing women," he said, chuckling in his chair.