Twenty years ago, when I was looking for a proper site to build a new dairy complex, Joe suggested I talk to a close neighbor whose farm was on a black top road. We already were custom farming his land and were raising heifers in his old feedlot. I knew immediately that Joe had the right idea because on my home farm there was not enough high elevation ground to build a site that could be expanded into the future. I also knew the elderly neighbor was in a bind for cash and would be open to selling 20 acres for double the going rate. The real story, though, is the history of the neighbor’s house.
    When I bought the 20 acres for the new dairy site, my neighbor, Clarence, and I also agreed on a contract for deed to purchase the rest of the farm. The contract stipulated that Clarence and his wife, Dorothy, would retain free use of the farmhouse for as long as they wanted. The farmhouse sits about one-half mile back from the tar road and one-quarter mile behind the dairy complex. The family that homesteaded the land probably located the original farmyard there for its close proximity to Lake Ocheda and access to water.
    Clarence had grown up on this farm and had dated Dorothy in high school, but for some reason, Dorothy married someone else. Clarence remained single and lived with his widowed mother on the farm for many years.
    Suddenly, when Clarence was in his early 40s, Dorothy’s husband died and left her with two sons to raise. Quite quickly Clarence and Dorothy reunited and married. Clarence’s mother, upon hearing that Dorothy and her two boys were moving into the farmhouse, immediately went and bought a house in town. She moved very quickly into her house in town and told Clarence she would be back the next week to get the rest of her stuff. Somehow she never got most of that stuff in the huge upstairs closets.
    Growing up, that house was like my second home because one of Dorothy’s sons became my best friend. Her son, Wayne, and I cruised the neighborhood on our big Honda 50s. We baled hay together, went on double dates and just plain had a lot of fun. Their whole family included me on adventures and camping trips. Sadly, Wayne, Clarence and Dorothy all passed away within three weeks of each other about 12 years ago. That left their daughter, Janell, in charge of the estate, and she lives in Florida. When Janell was home for all three funerals, she walked through the old farmhouse and said she only wanted a family heirloom hutch shipped to Florida and for me to take care of everything else.
    The house was full of three generations of stuff. I asked my daughters and daughter-in-law to go through it and take anything they wanted. That was not nearly enough. Then I had two employees help me take out obvious junk to burn and recycle. Then I immediately rented it to one of my employees who had a new wife and a new baby. This new family had nothing, so they were happy with the used beds, used couches, used dishes and everything else in that house. They basically lived on the main floor and closed off the five big bedrooms on the second floor for heating cost reasons. On Jan. 1 of this year, this family moved back to their native country of Honduras. The husband was older, had worked for me for 15 years, and his wife was younger and had milked for me for 10 years.
    Over this time, they lived very frugally and saved up enough money to hire contractors in Honduras to build them a brand-new concrete house on 20 acres of land. Their plan is to buy five milk cows, milk them with a bucket milking machine I gave them and sell the milk locally. Now the house is big and empty. Joe and Corey think I should tear it down, and they are probably right. But it has pocket doors in the parlor, exterior French doors and a beautiful staircase. The whole house needs work, and there are still artifacts on the second floor, including a hand crank cream separator. Right or wrong, I am completely redoing the kitchen, even including a built-in dishwasher. The rest of the main floor will get new paint and carpet. The old plaster walls will have dents and holes, but I learned from watching HGTV that as long as they are clean and painted that is OK. I will have no problem renting out the house, the problem always is finding the right renters.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minnesota. Send him feedback at Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.