Remembering Fred Strohbehn

By Bert Schou, Self-Help International Board of Directors

Fred Strohbehn was a farmer, a man of faith, and a philanthropist who undoubtedly left the world better off than he found it.  Fred’s expertise in corn and cattle, together with his concern for food production, distribution and population control, and quality of life for all world citizens led him to serve on Self-Help’s Board of Directors from 1975 until he passed away on March 10, 2018.

I had the joy of serving with Fred on the Self-Help Board and traveling with him to Nicaragua several times over the past thirty years. Fred was always a student of history and took a real joy in learning about events and the way things are done around the world, especially in agriculture.  He loved livestock. When we went to Nicaragua, we saw cattle similar to the ones in India, and horses were one of the main means of transport. When we flew from Managua to San Carlos, Nicaragua, on a trip with Self-Help about 15 years ago, we took a first pass over the runway to scare the cattle off the runway and then landed on the second pass, heading uphill on a grass runway. We saw mules carrying goods to market and then there were free range chickens and pigs at a number of places.

In the early 2000s, Fred and I traveled to Nicaragua with a group of board and family members including Dale and Mary Harpstead, Milo and Ruth Harpstead, Margaret Emmons, Diane Schou, and Jon and Gloria Tehven.  We enjoyed attending a Rotary meeting at the Continental Hotel, Managua, standing out in fields, riding Russian jeeps in rural San Carlos, and a memorable trip down the Rio San Juan river from San Carlos to the castle called El Castillo which is in ruins, but still looks like a real fort. We stayed overnight near the castle and then went to meetings with local agricultural leaders.

During each of our trips, what Fred enjoyed most was seeing the progress farmers were making as they learned improved practices from Self-Help staff.  We saw first-hand as they transitioned from planting corn in a random fashion to planting in rows. He loved hearing about how much the yields improved as the farmers implemented better management and fertilizer application.  The results for families were tangible: the head of the first coop Self-Help supported in Melchorita was able to afford a refrigerator in his home because of the increased yields.

The farmers in the Melchorita coop showed that they could help themselves following Self-Help’s mission and teachings, and later bought the land away from Self-Help. With the funds from that sale, together with a generous gift from Fred, Self-Help purchased a building and land for a new research and demonstration station just North of San Carlos, Nicaragua, which is now Self-Help’s main office in Nicaragua. It bears the name “Fred Strohbehn Leadership and Training Center” and has his picture on the outside wall.   

Fred’s generosity was motivated by his faith. I recently came across a brochure from the mid-1990s when Self-Help was transitioning from shipping tractors around the world to our current focus on helping farmers improve yields through training and resources such as input loans to put that training into action. He was appealing to people of faith like himself when he wrote, “Part of the mission of Christian churches is to help people in need. Self-Help provides this in a most practical way. Self-Help is assisting farmers in setting up systems which provide opportunities for growing and managing better food crops. Therefore, they can earn a better living for their families and build better communities.” He was proud of our partnership with the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, and how effective Self-Help was as we shifted strategies, but maintained our mission to alleviate hunger by helping people help themselves.

Fred had a farmer’s heart, and understood and emphathized with the farmers during seasons when the rains weren’t so good or pests were particularly problematic. He was there to support them in the best way possible, and advise our staff to deliver the best services.  Yet each trip, no matter the challenges, his smile and interest day in and day out were a big boost to all of us.

Fred’s legacy truly lives on in the lives of family’s like Alfredo’s, whose children are getting an education thanks to the lessons learned from Self-Help.  Thanks to Fred.

Read Fred Strohbehn’s obituary here: