One of the first Iowans to build a hog confinement, farmer Jerry Grings dies of COVID-19
A Cubs fan, the "flower lady," husbands, wives, and more are part of the more than 1,400 Iowans lost COVID-19 as of early October 2020. Des Moines Register
Jerry Thomas Grings’ nickname, “Big Jer,” wasn’t due to his height or his weight.
No, the moniker stuck because of the 80-year-old’s enormous heart and giving nature.
“Our legacy is that we learned from the best,” said Jerry’s son, Jeff. “Just to treat people right, treat people with respect, help out when you can and love your family.”
Jerry died of complications from COVID-19 on Nov. 28 in Bettendorf. He was 80.
Born on an acreage in Muscatine County, Jerry farmed his parents’ land, growing a strong work ethic as he tended crops and looked after livestock.
In the mid-1970s, Jerry became one of the first farmers in the state to have a hog confinement. Dignitaries from around the world came to visit the barns and study his animals, Jeff said.
Barely a day went by that Jerry didn’t do his chores, even after his sons took over grain producing on the farm about five years ago.
“There is no doubt he was the backbone and kind of the glue to it all,” Jeff said.
Jerry went into town to greet friends every morning and cheered on sports teams whenever he could.
The patriarch never liked to go on vacation, preferring to find adventure on day trips. Recently, he had driven two hours to a store he said had particularly crisp pickles, returning to Muscatine County with enough jars for friends and family.
Known for his flat-top, Jerry asked his other son, Brett, to cut his hair when the barber shop closed this spring. Brett obliged, with the help of a pair of pig clippers, which restored the famous coif to a passable state, he said
Jerry delivered cattle to Louisiana in the fall and returned feeling just a bit ill. His prescription for sickness was always to get out in the sun and do some work.
But this time, neither the sunshine nor the work provided the salve.
During this year’s harvest, Jeff worked with his dad in “almost perfect weather and a wonderful yield," he said.
With Big Jer now gone, Jeff finds himself thinking about that final, perfect harvest — a small blessing in these difficult times.
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. 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.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following are deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 400 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
Keith Wayne Anderson, 73, Kalona. Served in Vietnam as a sergeant during the Tet Offensive.
Joe Butterfield, 84, Marion. Lead Marion park projects, getting the city a swimming pool, Seniors' Center, Farmers' Market, softball complex and launching the Swamp Fox Festival.
Jean Calligan-Salmons, 71, Sioux City. Took over her family's restaurant, The Tastee Inn and Out.
Loretta Caruthers, 64, Keokuk. Enjoyed spending time arguing about the television with her husband.
Elizabeth Coovert, 8, Fort Madison. Grew up with eight siblings on a family farm at String Prairie.
Richard Doerr, 67, South Sioux City. Opened Dicky G's Restaurant.
Richard Fust, 84, Des Moines. Coached youth ice hockey for many years.
Jessie Gonzales, 67, Fort Dodge. Iowa Department of Corrections inmate.
Marlan Hill, 83, Sioux City. Loved motorcycles, corvettes and horses.
LeRoy "Puttball" Lanxon, 88, Cherokee. Known as "everyman's friend, everyman's confidant and everyman's best buddy" in Cherokee.
Patricia Loter, 87, Keokuk. Enjoyed going on bus trips with friends.
Melvin Manternach, 87, Monticello. Proud member of "Table of Knowledge" at Darrell's Family Diner.
Nancy Chilton Maxwell, 92, Des Moines. Liked playing the lottery and the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes, "but never lucky."
Beth Neubaurer, 77, Ankeny. Proudly carried the nickname of Gramcracker, or Cracker for short, which was given to her by her older grandkids.
Dewey Nielsen, 74, Oxford. Enjoyed meeting and visiting with campers and community members as he ran Sleepy Hollow Campground.
Eugene Norton, 89, Clive. Collected cars and repaired lawn mowers.
Duane Palmer Sr., 92, Cedar Rapids. Repaired lawnmowers and small engines as a hobby with his best friend, Norm.
Lesley Paulsen, 74, Des Moines. Enjoyed a good mystery novel and a strong cup of coffee.
Harry Perkins III, 73, Des Moines. Practiced in Civil Litigation and Trial Law for 45 years.
Leslie Rish, 80, Mason City. Served in the Army in Virigina, Washington, South Korea and Germany.
Jackson Selk, 74, Cedar Rapids. Appointed to the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council for the State of Iowa and worked as coordinator for the Linn County Emergency Youth Shelter.
Barbara Strait, 84, Cedar Rapids. A member of Good Sam's Camping Club.
Leona Wallbaum, 104, Parkersburg. A faithful, active member of Bethel Lutheran Church for over 80 years.