SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | The kid who wasn't supposed to walk or run steps quickly across the stage at B.J. Haan Auditorium on Friday, one of 307 graduates securing up a Dordt College diploma.
Not supposed to walk? A bit cliché?
There's little cliché about Phil Feikema, an ag business major from tiny Leota, Minn.
"The doctor told my parents we should amputate one of my legs," Feikema said on Thursday. "I wasn't going to be able to walk or run."
How did Colin and Darla Feikema respond? The son smiles and says, "They switched doctors."
Thirty-four surgeries and 22 years later, Feikema bounds from Dordt with three job offers, the first two of which he declined.
"I had a roommate who couldn't believe I turned down a couple of job offers," he says. "The first two offers were in places that didn't have churches nearby that I wanted to join."
The third offer, an agronomist position at Cenex Harvester States of Grand Meadow, Minn., is near Rochester, Minn. Feikema says he has a multitude of church options there.
"It was risky turning down job offers, but it paid off," he says.
Risky. It's how this four-year Dordt College Defender golfer describes his sport of choice. He'll take chances hitting over the water on certain holes, his attempt to make up for a shortcoming in golf's power game.
Not only did Feikema have a webbed leg at birth, amniotic bands wrapped around his fingers and cut off circulation. He was born with a club left hand that had four fingers, one of which was amputated. His right hand has an index finger and a ring finger, but only half of three other fingers.
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Despite having only five total fingers, Feikema learned to tie his shoes at an early age. He does everything but rock climbing, really, and he's tried that. He lettered in golf at Southwest Minnesota Christian High School and competed for the Dordt junior varsity for four years. Shot a 79 at The Ridge Golf Club in Sioux Center a few days ago.
"I have to be accurate on the golf course, because I can't hit it as far as others," he says. "And I have to take risks."
Attending Dordt, he adds, wasn't risky. This Christian college rooted in the Reformed tradition is one of few schools its size to offer an ag business major. You could say Dordt had Feikema at "hello."
"I think of the money aspect in agriculture, but I also think of myself as a steward, a servant of the Lord and the community," he says.
He worked for farmer Leland Kaster of nearby Hull, Iowa, during college, baling bean stubble, prepping ground. He did an internship last summer that helped lead to his third job offer this spring, the one he accepted. It's with the third-largest grain exporter in the U.S. He starts the first week in June.
"Being an agronomist is a face-to-face job," he says. "I'm excited to work alongside farmers and learn things myself while helping them. I'll probably learn more in two years on the job than I did in four years of college."
That's no criticism of Dordt, mind you.
"You cannot pass up college," he says. "I came from a small town (population 150) and met kids from all over the U.S. and the world. I made connections here."
He also worked. He played golf. He cheered on his Defender teams. He laughed, he struggled a bit in some classes, and took on debt that must be repaid.
He made lifelong friends and memories.
And, this morning, he'll cross an educational finish line by grabbing a diploma after a walk across the stage that's been 22 years in the making.