Unruh preaches rural road safety among many roles
TAYLORS BRIDGE, Del. — June Unruh has always been involved in her rural community.
She grew up on a farm just five miles from where she lives now with her husband, Tom.
“My childhood farm was small,” she recalled.
She had a dairy herd, her dad grew corn and they also had chickens and pigs.
She and Tom met in high school and have been married for 52 years.
“Tom grew up on a dairy farm as well,” Unruh said. “Actually, our family history of farming in Delaware goes back at least 200 years on both sides of our families.
“My family farmed in Talleyville, and Tom’s family farmed in Middletown.”
The Unruhs own 700 acres in southern New Castle County and till an additional 400 acres, for a total of 1,100 tilled acres of corn and soybeans.
They milked cows for 30-plus years and grew hay for their own dairy herd.
They continue the hay business for the equine market.
“The hay business keeps us busy enough, and I love to help Tom,” she said.
June helps load hay on a truck and knows how to stack the bales to fill the back of a pickup. “Tom used to put me up in the hayloft while he would throw bales up from the wagons. It was hot up there!”
Early in their marriage, Tom worked seven years for Ichthyological Associates, an environmental firm.
After they bought their first farm, he then farmed full-time and Unruh worked off the farm for 32 years at PNC Bank. She would feed the calves in the morning before work and feed them again when she came home.
“As the children got older, that became their job,” she said.
The Unruhs have two children, Scott and Lori, who were active in 4-H as their parents both had been. Scott was president of New Castle County Farm Bureau for four years and was instrumental in launching what is now the Delaware Farm Bureau Foundation’s 5K Milk Run/Walk, which raises money to provide milk for hungry children. Lori is an associate professor of International Agriculture at North Carolina State University.
June Unruh said she had always wanted to teach school. She used that desire to teach by starting a “Bank at School” program for local elementary schools in the Appoquinimink School district while working at the bank. “The children really enjoyed learning how to make deposits and withdrawals, and record transactions in a bank register book,” she said.
After retiring, Unruh again put her passion for teaching to work with the Grange and Farm Bureau. She is currently Lecturer and Secretary of Central Grange and is the Lecturer for the Delaware State Grange. She is New Castle County Women’s Committee Chair and a member of Delaware Farm Bureau’s Promotion and Education Committee where she chairs the Rural Road Safety Committee. June also chairs Farm Bureau’s annual Ag Safety Conference which is held in March each year. She has actively promoted the Rural Road Safety Program in both organizations. Both organizations have been recognized nationally for this program.
June wrote a resolution for the National Grange Convention in 2017 where it was adopted by the delegates.
“Rural Road Safety has been my passion, from the beginning. I felt like it was something I needed to do,” she said. “It was the loss of our neighbor who was involved in an accident while driving his tractor on a rural road that made me want to do the Rural Road Safety Project, to bring awareness to this problem,” she said. There was no dedicated safety program in place, so when she presented the idea, the P & E Committee decided to dedicate one-third of its resources to launch such a program.
As an example of the need for awareness, Unruh said on a recent Sunday afternoon, she was driving the “pilot car” following their combine home on Route 9.
“I had my flashers on and the cars behind me kept trying to pass. I positioned myself in the middle of the road and they were close to my bumper. The combine was only on the road for a few miles, no more than five minutes,” she added. “I keep thinking it will work if we keep talking about it.”
Unruh is proactive, making sure slow moving vehicle signs are on every piece of equipment on their farm. A quick “walk around” in the spring is a good practice for all farmers to do, she said.
Unruh and other Farm Bureau leaders got elected officials involved in this initiative.
They were able to convince Delaware Department of Transportation to use digital signs on major highways to alert motorists to expect farmers on the roads during planting and harvest seasons.
Officials also agreed to include the SMV sign in the next Division of Motor Vehicles driver’s manual.
Yard signs were developed and distributed free of charge to farmers to warn motorists that farmers may be entering the road. The sign, with a picture of a tractor, urges motorists to drive carefully.
Pam Bakerian, then Delaware Farm Bureau Executive Director, was a tremendous help, Unruh said.
“Being on the radio was fun and was something that I’d had never done before. I’ll use whatever method I can do to communicate the message.”
Statewide advertising reached hundreds of thousands of people during harvest season. Opinion pieces were sent to state and local newspapers stressing the need for rural road safety. Social media was used to remind motorists to “share the road” and “Think Safety” decals to put on equipment were distributed to farmers.
A rural road safety brochure was created and distributed at the Delaware State Fair with tips for motorists and farmers on how to be safe while sharing the road.
As a result of all these efforts, Delaware Farm Bureau was one of three states to win the “Our Food Link Award” at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention in 2017.
As if home, family, farm, Farm Bureau and Grange were not enough, Unruh is Lay Leader in her church, and a member of the Odessa Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary.
“It all keeps me very busy,” she said.
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