August 14, 2017 |

Why Communities Matter

Small towns rally around victims of fatal grain facility explosion

Why Communities Matter

A deadly explosion at Didion Milling in Cambria, WI, on May 31 shook the agriculture community in my home state and grain industry nationwide. The blast initially killed three of the 16 employees working at the corn processing facility that night — weeks later two more people died in the hospital of their injuries.

The Red Cross, Salvation Army and more than 20 local fire departments responded to the explosion and subsequent fire. Although the cause of the incident is still under investigation, the site is a complete loss, which Didion has already committed to rebuilding.

The unimaginable tragedy occurred the first night of the second annual trade show and conference Feed & Grain LIVE, and the next morning word of the sad news spread throughout the trade show hall quickly. Before breakfast, I took the opportunity to lead a moment of silence for those who lost their lives, for their families, and everyone at Didion Milling who were undoubtedly affected by loss of their fellow co-workers. Of all of the fatal accidents I’ve reported on over the years, this one, because it took place a mere 60 miles from my home, was especially saddening to hear.

One silver lining in this situation is how the communities so close to mine rallied around Didion, raising money for the Old Mill Foundation Didion Benefit Fund, which will go toward supporting the victims’ families. Taverns held meat raffles to raise contributions. A grocery store volunteered to host a meal benefit. A supper club donated all of its profits from one evening to the cause. Quilting groups created special prayer quilts and invited community members to participate.

The funds will assist people like Collin Vander Galien, whose legs were amputated in order to free him from the debris he was trapped under. His inspiring story of survival aired on WKOW27, an ABC affiliate in Madison. Despite the loss of both legs, Collin lives grateful for each day he’s given. He is determined to make a full recovery from the amputation and is well on his way in just a matter of weeks. Collin graciously thanked the first responders who came to his aid and the aid of the friends he worked with that night. (Watch the video at

Donations to the Old Mill Foundation Didion Benefit Fund can be sent to National Exchange Ban, 118 West Edgewater St., P.O. Box 338, Cambria, WI 53923.

Please consider contributing to this cause and keep Didion Milling in your thoughts. And as always, keep safety a priority as you prepare your facility for the harvest season just around the corner.

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