Local farms receive Century Awards
On Tuesday, Aug. 6, at the Wisconsin State Fair, Hillshire Farm of New London, Wis., continued a 39-year tradition of honoring families who have had continuous ownership of their Wisconsin farm or home for 100 years or more. Among the 126 recipients of this year’s Century Award were the local farms of Alice Talmage and Mary Barney.
“I was born in 1928 in the house up there,” said Alice Talmadge pointing to a white house just beyond the barn.
Alice Strand was John and Emma Strand’s only child in a time when farming was a very physical proposition and boys were the desired offspring.
“For a long time, I was the only man around,” Talmadge said, “That’s just how things were.”
Ole Strand, Talmadge’s great grandfather, moved from Norway to Northfield, Minn., with his wife Berit and 3-year-old son Ole O. in 1863. In 1912, Ole O. left the family homestead in Northfield with his 18-year-old son, John, and purchased 80 acres in the Town of Star Prairie from a lady who had 10 children and had just been divorced.
“Grandpa felt sorry for her,” Talmadge said.
As she prepares to pass her farm onto her son Steve and daughter Diane, Talmadge recalls fond memories of growing up around her grandfather Ole.
“Coming from Northfield where the land was flat as a floor, grandpa didn’t like this land because it was so rolly,” Talmage said. His son John didn’t care for it much either because the soil had too much gravel in it, plus it had trees and a lake all of which made it seem a little foreign to him. In 1918, Ole hired a carpenter from New Richmond to help him build a barn about the same time he built the small house Alice was born in.
“This barn is considered one of the best barns around. It’s got the wood pegs inside. Nothing has ever needed replacing and it’s never leaked,” Talmage said.
“Without electricity, we had a windmill which pumped water from the lake to the barn for the cattle. So the cattle got water, but we didn’t. We got our news over the radio. We had a wet cell radio with six units like you used to put in a car,” Talmage said.
According to Talmage, grandpa Ole was a man of many talents with a few surprises thrown in.
“Grandpa Ole did all of the cooking. He was a Norwegian cook, so we ate a lot of hash. He ordered lutefisk from a book and it would come in on the train from Duluth.
But one of her favorite memories was of the gifts Ole would bring back from the city.
“Grandpa was frisky enough to get on the train. He used to go shopping over in Minneapolis because his sister was over there. He’d tell the salesperson, “about this size,” holding out his hands. He brought back shoes. I always had to grow into those shoes,” Talmage said.
Ole contracted gangrene at the end of his life and returned to Northfield leaving John with the farm. When the doctor suggested removing the infected leg, Ole replied, “I’m going to the grave in one piece,” stubborn to the end.
Alice married Robert Talmage in 1952. His career in the Air Force moved them around including stops in Nashville and Germany. In 1958, pregnant with Diane, they moved back to Wisconsin purchasing a home just up the road from the farm.
“Dad still didn’t have an inside toilet. So we added inside plumbing by converting the pantry into a bathroom,” Talmage said.
She was worried about her father being alone, so eventually she and Robert built a second home on the farm.
“Robert got interested in doing the farming and that was a mistake! But we did it anyway,” Talmage said.
Asked about what makes the farm so dear to her, she said with a tear on her cheek, “It was taking care of my two wonderful men here. I never heard my dad complain. I guess he had the same love I have for this place.”
Now with five grandchildren, Talmage hopes the farm will stay in the family.
“I thoroughly enjoyed growing up as a farmer’s daughter. After school, I’d walk to grandpa’s and wait. I guess that’s when I started falling in love with the farm, partly because of him. I’ve never even thought about another lifestyle,” Mary Barney said.
Enticed by the good soil and the availability of farmsteads around New Richmond, George W. Lewerenz moved north from Dodge County with his wife Alma. He purchased 80 acres in 1905 for $5,600. They had a son Elmer A. or Tommy, depending on which side of the disagreement you came down on, and two daughters, Mildred and Viola.
George built a barn and a house, which was added onto over the years as his family grew. It was a working farm. He had moved enough cows and horses north by train from Dodge County to become known as the Prairie View Stock Farm.
“The train bisected the property, which was hard because we’d have to go get the cows who’d be across the tracks. We’d make sure there wasn’t a train coming, but once in a while, one would come around the bend and it was chaos!” Barney said.
Barney has fond memories of the time she spent with her grandparents on their farm.
“Grandad would entertain us by playing his harmonica as we would march around the huge living room table. He taught us some German words. I remember his laughter to this day as we struggled to pronounce these strange words,” Barney said.
Barney’s quick to point out the future ownership of the farm was never in question. Each successive generation willed it to a male descendent, not that that bothered her.
“It was always about the male lineage. Of course my brother was named after his grandfather. We girls always wondered why didn’t grandpa ever hold us?” Barney said.
Tommy married Grace Atkinson and bought 120 acres 2.5 miles north of his father’s farm. They had a son, George E., and three daughters, Alma Jean, Alice and Mary. Upon George W.’s death in 1961, the farm passed jointly to Tommy and his son George. Of the three children, only Mary had a real love for the farm.
“We knew the name of every cow and fell in love with every calf. We had our chickens and our eggs and mom had a huge garden. We canned everything that was alive,” Barney said.
Barney ended up renting the original farmhouse from her father. Eventually she purchased it in 1966 along with all the buildings and 3 acres finally gaining title to a piece of her beloved farm. Her brother George owns the remaining 77 acres.
She met Mike Barney, an electrician, while working as a photographer for Doughboy Enterprises. The love affair started with a slap, but after three proposals, she relented, “Well you want to be sure.”
In the ensuing 47 years, they raised two sons on the farm though much to their despair neither seems interested in continuing the farm. When Barney raises the question, they reply, “Too much work.”
Barney wonders what will happen to her farm.
“Although we have been enriched with two sons, three grandchildren and one great grandchild, we have not heard of any relative interested in eventually living here. But, it is not really our property to worry about. We own nothing. We are merely caretakers for a short time - 108 years to be exact!”