This segment is part of the The Farm Crisis documentary, which examines the tragic circumstances faced by farmers for most of the 1980s, when thousands were forced into bankruptcy, land values dropped by one-third nationally, and sky-high interest rates turned successes into failures seemingly overnight.
Reality hit Bob and Theresa Sullivan when they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and had a sheriff's sale in the early 1980s. One of Theresa's brothers bought the homeplace allowing Bob and Theresa to stay there until retirement.
Bob Sullivan: Even in the bankruptcy we were, by law we were entitled to 40 acres so they come out and measured off 40 acres but there was no way to make a living off of 40 acres and all the buildings so we learned to be poor that way. We're getting by and we're just still poor folks but we're okay.
Today, four of the Sullivans' sons farm full time.
Kaye Hagedorn: For me I dragged my feet. I could not pack, I could not get ready. I postponed it and postponed it and postponed it.
The Hagedorn family decided on a different path when they filed for bankruptcy. Their home had been in the family for generations but they knew if they tried to hold onto it they might lose all of their land. The bank took it back for secured debt, leaving the homeplace wasn't easy.
Kaye Hagedorn: Finally, Dean got all his buddies to come and they came into my home and they moved me out in two hours, lock stock and barrel and into a rental property in town. Took us six months to find his ties. They were in the electric frying pan, not where anybody would normally look for them. Emotionally it was really traumatic. That night as we lay sleeping in our new house I woke up in the middle of the night and I felt like I was almost in an altered universe because the moon rise was on the wrong side of the room and for just a moment I didn't know where I was. Dean, there's a picture of him that I'll never forget, it was on the cover of I think the Des Moines Register and it's just heart wrenching. I can't look at it to this day. He was really sad. He had been raised there. That was his home from the time he was a little boy. So it had a different meaning for him than it did for me. I loved the place. It was my heart's home and I'll get teary. But I didn't have the burden of unmet expectations of disappointing family and friends. That has got to be really burdensome.
Dean Hagedorn: That was devastating for me. The day we moved to Spencer and moved to a rental house is the day that I'll never, I don't want to relive. We were out of there and into the new place in a matter of one day. But it was something that I couldn't delay, it was something I couldn't spend two weeks doing. I had to get it done and out here and over with and gone. That was what had to happen and for me it had to happen quickly and be done and move on and go from there. But when the trucks were all gone, Kaye and the kids were gone, and the house was totally empty and I was sitting in there, it was a time I won't forget. I felt, those feelings of failing.
(music) All the lightning bugs took cover underneath the leaves of corn. I sat on the front porch like always riding out the storm. Maybe you're deep in some dream right now that would leave you feeling safe and warm. It's a far cry from freedom but it kind of feels like being reborn. And you shed your skin like a king snake out in an Iowa field. Washing your hands in the porcelain basin, your plan was to finally heal. You weren't prepared to be taken by storm or set so far back on your heels. But that's alright, this too shall pass, no matter how bad it feels.
December 7, 1985 -- Our net worth in two years has dropped from 34 percent to minus zero. Incredible! We are stone cold broke!