If you ask many of the farmers who lived through the 1980s Farm Crisis, they’ll tell you there was once an angel who took their call—an Oklahoman named Mona Lee Brock.
That was the resounding message when American Farmers & Ranchers (AFR) Cooperative gathered farmers at the Oklahoma Dept. of Agriculture, Food & Forestry (ODAFF) May 15 to recognize Mona Lee Brock’s contributions to the farming community, both in Oklahoma and across the country. The AFR event included an unveiling of memorabilia and a bronze relief in the likeness of Brock, but it was the farmer testimonies that truly honored her.
“What a great day to celebrate the life of an individual who made the difference in the lives of so many farm families. She was a bulldog when it came to helping farmers and ranchers,” said AFR Cooperative Secretary Paul Jackson, who emceed the event. “Today, we look back at the 1980s—what created the crisis, the people that were impacted, the people that are still impacted today, and how they were helped by Mona Lee Brock.”
As one of the first farm stress advocates, Brock’s contributions can be counted in the number of lives she saved during the 1980s Farm Crisis and beyond. As the suicide rate among farmers soared, Brock took it upon herself to answer phone calls—first from fellow Oklahomans, then from distressed farmers across the country—all dealing with low product prices and high interest rates. Many of those who called faced foreclosure. Brock became a de facto farm stress counselor, doing everything she could to keep farmers on the line and connected—to keep them from committing suicide.
“Mona Lee related to the farmers she talked with,” said AFR Cooperative President Scott Blubaugh. “She and her husband had recently lost their farm and she could give the farmers who called something no one else could—the listening ear of someone who truly understood. Someone who understood what farming means to farmers. Mona Lee understood that farming is in you, that it is the core of who you are as a person. And that the loss of a farm is not just the loss of land, but really a loss of identity.”
Brock was recognized within Oklahoma and across the nation for her work. She worked closely with the farm relief organization Farm Aid and became close friends with the organization’s co-founder Willie Nelson, who called her the “Angel on the End of the Line.”
"When you think about the lives that were positively impacted and changed by one person, it makes you marvel at how unique Mona Lee Brock was to all of us in agriculture,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur. “She gave everything she had just to make a difference. It's a fabulous story to tell."
Through the creation of a national hotline, Brock and only a handful of other volunteers ultimately saved not only thousands of farms, but also thousands of families. As the years went by, the hotline was needed less frequently and was eventually shelved. In recent years, there has been renewed interest in the work related to farm stress management and farmer suicide prevention as suicide rates among farmers are once again increasing.
“Oklahoma Farmers Union was proud to house the suicide hotline all those years ago and today we are once again proud to champion the cause of farmer and rancher mental health,” said Blubaugh. “The farmer suicide rate has once again increased over the last decade, but I’m proud to say—thanks to Mona Lee’s original efforts—we are more prepared this time. And, there are so many more people ready to answer the call.”