Big Sky, Big Troubles and a Big, Big God
It takes a big man to face life’s blows and come away happier and more in touch with God than ever. But Montana’s “Big Sky Country” has a way of growing such men, and Ron Harmon of Havre, Montana, is no exception.
Ron was born and raised on a farm set amid the prairies of north-central Montana. Later, his dad sold the farm and moved the family to nearby Havre, a small farming town with a Burlington Northern railroad center. When a tractor dealership was built next door to his dad’s truck stop, it captured Ron’s imagination and he spent many hours during his high school years with the salesmen and mechanics.
Following his high school graduation in 1965, Ron spent two years in college, but his entrepreneurial spirit drove him to open a performance parts business in his father’s truck stop. Soon more and more time was spent selling big tires, mag wheels and engine parts, effectively ending Ron’s academic career.
Always ready for bigger challenges, Ron spent some time in the Army before buying a motorcycle, snowmobile and recreational vehicle dealership. Finally, in 1974, he was able to buy the tractor dealership that had captured his interest years before.
Building better tractors became Ron’s manufacturing focus, and shop foreman Bud Nelson spent a year building Big Bud, a tractor with a cab that tilted up for easy access to its powerful engine and transmission. This field-serviceable machine also included drive-train elements that could slide in and out for easy upgrades.
Needing more manufacturing space, Ron opened a new plant in 1978 and increased production to 120 tractors a year. Soon he had 200 employees, a marketing department and a dealer network.
But his plans to stabilize production at 200 tractors a year were brought to a halt when a supplier failed to deliver a critical part. With tractor delivery delayed, Ron’s company was financially crippled, and he was forced to lay off 150 workers.
Ron was devastated. A capable and can-do person, he suddenly felt unable to take care of anything correctly. He spent most of his time trying to solve the company’s problems and neglected his family, his church and his God. Before long, he found himself without the business or his family.
After a divorce from his first wife, Ron took another blow when Linda, his second wife, died. Ron had known Linda and her sister, Patty, since their high school years.
A couple years after losing Linda, Ron started dating Patty, who had been divorced for some time. Patty had become an Adventist and sent her children to Adventist schools, including Mt. Ellis Academy in Bozeman, Montana.
Although Ron was a member of the Nazarene Church, he occasionally went with Patty to her church, where he met Jim Jenkins, the Havre District pastor at that time, and they soon became good friends.
“I had been attending church with Patty quite regularly and was getting bits and pieces of Adventist thought,” Ron says. But it took something bigger to bring the Adventist message home to him.
That opportunity came when David Prest, Montana Conference trust and stewardship director, held some evangelistic meetings in Havre three years ago. Both Jim and Patty invited Ron to attend.
During the meetings, Ron learned a lot of new things, like why Saturday is the true Sabbath. “The meetings were a nice progression of topics through the doctrines,” Ron says. “When they passed out the cards, I indicated that I was interested in being baptized.”
When Jim came to talk to him about baptism, Ron wasn’t quite ready. Jim remained patient. “He gave me all the time I needed, and we did Bible studies together,” Ron says. “I kept looking for problems. I thought, ‘It cannot be quite this simple. There has got to be something they believe that I can’t.’”
As time went by, it became apparent Ron’s suspicions simply weren’t well-founded. “It was biblical. There wasn’t something to be afraid of, some great unknown out there,” he says. It took him the better part of a year to get through that process of searching before he became convinced that he wanted to be baptized. “The turning point for me was that the Adventist faith is Bible-based. If it wasn’t in the Bible, then you really did not have to worry about it.”
Bible-based truth was all Ron needed to satisfy his mind. “You don’t have to be around Adventists very long to understand that the doctrines are based on the Bible,” he explains. “It is wholesome and right and the truth, and you really cannot argue with the truth when it is proven to you in the Bible. The constant use of the Bible is what attracted me.”
When Ron was baptized in 2004, the Havre Church members have graciously accepted Ron. “He is well-loved [by the church members],” Patty says. “He is so talented, so capable. There isn’t anything he cannot do. He is a take-charge guy and gets things done one way or another, and everyone looks up to him.” As the chair of the building committee for the new Havre church, Ron is helping members reach their goal to do most of the construction work themselves and stay within budget.
Despite the terrible blows Ron has faced, God has led him to even greater successes. He and Patty have found their way into a deeper relationship with each other and with God. “It is the most wonderful thing to share your faith with someone that you love,” Patty explains. “We are both still growing, and it is exciting to see that happen.”
And Ron is still in the tractor business. He owns the Big Equipment Company, which rebuilds high-horsepower tractors and buys, sells and rebuilds other farm equipment.
“It is amazing how God works,” Patty says. “Ron is a very capable person and sometimes people like that really don’t feel they have a need of God. That is the reason I couldn’t imagine him surrendering that part of himself. But God never gave up on him. To see someone respond and to see how the Holy Spirit works is such a miracle.”
Adapted from Adventist World, September 2006.