On the subject of working on a farm his whole life, Rick Pertics once told a friend and fellow farmer that all he knows is blueberries, and he likes what he does.
"And it's true, from the time he was a boy, that's what he did, work on that farm," longtime friend Maury Siders, a blueberry farmer himself, said.
Pertics was raised on the sprawling Marshall County blueberry farm that he grew up to run himself. He came from a lineage of blueberry growers and innovators, as his father and uncle engineered unique blueberry harvesting equipment when they ran the farm before Pertics took over.
Pertics, 61, was killed early Monday morning when his clothes became stuck in irrigation equipment that he was tending to overnight.
Business associates and friends said the man was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable blueberry harvester who was an owner of the popular Pertics Blueberry Plantation in LaPaz. He lived in Marshall County his whole life except for a stint in the Navy during which he fought in the Vietnam War.
Friends and fellow farmers said Pertics was likely in the field that night to care for his blueberries in the midst of a frost warning, because of unusually cold May temperatures over the weekend.
"I'm sure he was out there trying to run the irrigation system to keep the berries from freezing," David Ge, a friend of Pertics, said Tuesday. "Last year, they lost almost everything because of the frost."
It's an indication of the challenges and pressures an owner of a small farm faces, farmers said.
"Farmers, especially small farmers, cannot afford to hire full-time help. You're always doing the job yourself," Siders said.
But Pertics' love of blueberries was clear.
Siders bought his blueberry farm in Rochester about 28 years ago, and knew nothing about growing the berries. Pertics was an expert, though, and Siders said his friend always offered help to other growers.
"I would like to know half of what that man forgot about raising blueberries," Siders said. "It was everything from pruning to fertilizing to pest control."
Ge bought blueberries from Pertics every year, freezing pounds of them for his children.
"He was always out there. He loved his work and he loved the blueberries," Ge said.
Pertics' farm was one of two remaining commercial blueberry farms in Marshall County, his family having been one of the biggest blueberry distributors in the area for decades.
James Erwin, owner of the other Marshall County blueberry farm, the Pickin Patch, said Pertics was an active member of a small but close group of blueberry farmers in the area, as well as a close friend.
"An industry can either work together or be at each other's throats," Erwin said.
The local growers here worked together, he said. The camaraderie came from an appreciation of each other's hurdles and triumphs.
"He was probably up all night trying to take care of his berries," Erwin said, adding, "This happens in farming. It's a dangerous business."
Ronnie McCartney sold Pertics' blueberries in his LaPaz grocery store, Mac's Market.
"They were just wonderful people to work with," McCartney said, referring to Pertics and his wife, Cindy, who helped run the farm. "It's really devastating. I hope that somehow they can continue."
Funeral services will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Palmer Funeral Home, 314 S. Michigan St., in Lakeville. Friends may visit with the family from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday.
"I'm pretty pragmatic about death," Siders said, "but this is going to leave a hole."
Staff writer Madeline Buckley:
Blueberry farmer Rick Pertics 'loved his work'
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