"I like to tell stories," says Max Armstrong. "That's how I've approached my business over these years, is telling stories.
Truer words may never have been spoken than those by the veteran farm broadcaster. Armstrong – better known to listeners simply as their friend, Max – has made a career telling agriculture's stories from the WGN studios in Chicago, through "This Week in Agribusiness" on television, and today as director of broadcasting at Penton Agriculture (Penton Ag is the parent company of Prairie Farmer). Very often, he's told those stories alongside his famed colleague, Orion Samuelson.
Now, he's committed many of the best stories to print for his first book: Stories from the Heartland.
At just under 200 pages and chock full of fascinating photos, Max weaves together a lifetime of "it's a small world" encounters, captured as he's rocketed through a career at the nexus of dozens of fascinating people and situations.
"It's a diverse bunch I write about," Max observes. From the Loyola NICU doctor to the Danville man who ran Sears Roebuck in the '60s and lived down the street from Max's family, he's sought to tell their stories. Take that neighbor; his name was Edward Telling and Max says when they visited, the stories Telling wanted to share weren't about his incredible career at Sears Roebuck.
"They were about growing up in Danville. That's what mattered in his life," he explains. Those were the stories and tales that appealed to Max, too.
Armstrong has called his collection, a "book of thanksgiving."
"It's me giving thanks for the relationships we have and for the people around us," he says. "We get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae, and I'm as guilty as anyone else. I get caught up in that and don't reach out to old friends or maintain contact as I should.
"Mostly with this book, I want people to realize the value of their family and their friends," he says.
As Max's career took him around the globe, so, too, came the stories with it. In the book, he tells of the loss of a $60,000 television camera ("because that's what they cost back then!"), stolen from a bus in Brazil after the driver fell asleep. Max and company offered a reward and the camera reappeared within 15 minutes.
"But it took five hours to get it back from the police," Max laughs. "They called their wives and the newspaper, brought in pizza and made it a Saturday night party!"
In the end, Max the storyteller has a singular piece of advice. "We all have great stories," he says. "Maybe one thing to do is to write some down on your own."
Editor's note: Max's new book makes a great gift for the special farmer in your life. For more ideas, check out our free guide, Gift ideas for the farmer who has everything or a special Christmas gift guide offered by Prairie Farmer Editor Holly Spangler.