Our small, connected world

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Good things happen when dairy farmers get together. Last week, several of us gathered for Minnesota Milk’s Annual Meeting, Dairy Dinner, and Dairy Day at the Capitol. Congratulations to the Mursu family – Tom, Tammy, Jeremy, and Vanessa – on their selection as Producer of the Year. They did a great job representing Minnesota’s dairy community at the Capitol.
During the ride from the Dairy Dinner back to the hotel, I was chatting with Marlys Hinckley of Chatfield, Minn. She mentioned growing up in St. Charles, Minn. and followed with: “It’s a little town you’ve probably never heard of.”
“Well, actually, I have,” I replied. And then I shared a quick version of my family’s history:
My grandfather, Erwin Smith, was raised in southeastern Minnesota. My great-grandparents, Clarence and Ina (Kingsley) Smith, were raised in New Hartford Township, Winona County and Money Creek, Houston County, respectively.
At the time my grandfather was born in 1919, Clarence and Ina were farming near Stockton in Winona County. But, in the 1920s, Clarence and Ina lost their farm, likely due to the plummeting commodity prices and corresponding land values of that decade.
The Smiths family left their home in Stockton and moved to a farm in Trout Valley near Oak Ridge in Winona County. They farmed there on shares with the landowner. After three more children joined the family, bringing their crew to 11, they moved again to a different farm with a round barn near Quincy, farming 320 acres on shares and milking 25 cows.
Then, in the late 1930s, word came from Ina’s brother, Kenneth Kingsley, that there were farms for sale in northeastern Minnesota. Kenny had moved up north to work on road construction in Carlton County.
In September of 1941, Clarence and Ina packed up their family, four horses, two cows, and their belongings and relocated to Cromwell, Minnesota. They picked a farm near the highway because it was close to the new electric lines.
But one of my grandpa’s sisters, Marjorie, didn’t make the move. Margie, as we knew her, had already married an Olmsted County fellow by the name of George Ihrke, who she had met at the Dover Calf Show. George and Margie farmed together near Dover until 1945, when George was drafted into the war. Margie and their three young children moved in with Clarence and Ina while George was away. In 1950, the Ihrkes returned to Dover.
My grandpa’s youngest sister, Eileen, also settled down in southeastern Minnesota. After graduating from high school in Cromwell, Eileen moved back to Dover to work for Margie. She was reacquainted with Glenn Walters, a boy she had known from the Quincy one room school. They fell in love, got married, and took over Glenn’s family farm north of Dover.
When I was a kid, we often visited George and Margie and Glenn and Eileen. I always marveled at Glenn and Eileen’s farm because they had a milking parlor with glass pipeline. We usually stopped in Dover as part of a making-the-rounds trip that included a visit to my aunt and uncle’s home in northeast Iowa.
So, yes, I told Marlys, I’ve been through St. Charles many times.
And then the conversation got really interesting.
Marlys said, “Dale is related to the Ihrkes!”
“No way!” I said.
Dale, Marlys’s husband, confirmed: “Yep. My mother was George’s sister.”
Dale knew that most of his Aunt Margie’s family was from up north, but wasn’t aware the family had deep roots in southeastern Minnesota.
We all agreed that the world is smaller and more connected than we often think – especially in the farming community.
Telling my great-grandparents’ story made me reflect on one of the comments Jeremy Mursu made in the Mursus’ Producer of the Year video.
“I’m thankful for my forefathers and their families. Each generation has put a lot of hard work and sacrifice into continuing farming. Without what they’ve done, I probably wouldn’t be farming today,” Jeremy said.
I couldn’t agree more with Jeremy’s statement.
Clarence could have gone back to work in town after losing the farm. No doubt it would have been simpler than relocating his family and livestock multiple times – including half way across the state. But during the Great Depression of the 1930s, living on a farm provided many benefits for a large family. And, as my elders tell me, Clarence loved farming and working with animals – enough to go wherever there was an opportunity to continue.
That love for farming and courage to strike out continue to define my family. My grandpa and grandma bought their own farm. My dad and mom did the same. Glen and I bought our own farm – and relocated our livestock a quarter of the way across the state in the process.
It’s good to reflect and it’s good to be grateful. I’m so glad Marlys mentioned St. Charles. And that Jeremy talked about being grateful for his forefathers. Thank you to Marlys and Jeremy and all of the other dairy farmers and dairy friends who gathered with us for a great two days together.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minnesota. They have three children – Dan, Monika, and Daphne. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com

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