In 2001, Carol F. Guregian, a retired schoolteacher and photography student at Washtenaw Community College put together a photo exhibition “50 Year Farmers of Southern Michigan” featuring photos and brief biographies of the longtime farmers in the area. Sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council, the photographs of the “50 Year Farmers” were displayed in multiple locations around Southeast Michigan from 2001-2002.
Recently, the Guregian family donated the photographs to the library. In the future, some of these photographs will be hung on the library walls, but until then, enjoy the digital images of the “50 Year Farmers” exhibition.
Donald Staebler, Ann Arbor: The Staebler family settled the Staebler Farm at 7734 Plymouth Road in 1912. By the year 1925 six children had been born to the household. All the children attended the Frains Lake one room school, Ypsilanti High School and all graduated from college, a forester for Weyerhaeuser, an electric engineer, a registered nurse and three school teachers. I was one of the teachers. After the disruptions of World War II the children of the family moved to many parts of the country but my wife, Lena, and I elected to buy the farm and keep it going. At this time I also held an off the farm job in mechanical research and gave considerable time to the Planning and Zoning Commissions in my community. Lena, my helpmate on the farm, passed away in 1991. The farm has been a typical general farm operation with cash crops of corn, wheat, oats plus dairy cows, hogs, chickens and draft horses. At 90+ years, I continue as a beef farmer, feeding and caring, sometimes, for as many as 50 Angus cattle. The excavation for M-14 freeway fill created a large pond on my land. My neighbors were thrilled when my picturesque farm with its woods and beautiful pond was sold for a county park. – Donald Staebler
Bill and Dottie Van Riper, Chelsea: Before his World War II assignment to Okinawa, Bill was in training at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey where he met Dottie. Deeply attracted to this young woman, he corresponded with her during the next 1 1/2 year of service. After the war Dottie made a 2-week visit to the Michigan farm resulting in a marriage agreement. They settled in Bill’s hometown on a fairly run down dairy farm with no running water, no central heat and no inside bathrooms. Life was hard for Dottie, coming from the city with all the amenities. Dottie’s mother, visiting from New Jersey, had a narrow escape from an outhouse being tipped over while she was inside. She swore she would not visit again until the amenities were improved. Bill and Dottie started out with 120 acres. They had seven children and with hard work form the whole family the farm grew to 660 acres and from 24 cows to 400 plus head. Bill says it was Dottie that made it all work out! The ownership of the farm is being slowly transferred to the children — Bill and Dottie Van Riper
Norman and Betty Hinderer, Chelsea: I was born in 1918. My parents were German people and spoke little English. When I went to school I spoke only German. Luckily for me some friends helped me to learn English. At the one room school we had to walk to the neighbors to get water. In the winter I went to school early to build the fire. I only went through eighth grade because my father needed me at home. My parents bought the farm on M52 where we still live. Our garage, milk house and two porches are built of stone. Many people stop to look at how they were made. My wife’s sister married my brother and we farmed together. We worked 600 acres including corn, oats, wheat and hay. We always had a large garden. Fishing has always been one of my passions. My hobbies now are small woodworking and playing cards. My wife does chair caning. We plan on living on the farm as long as we are able. We love the open spaces and hope our health warrants this. I still speak some German but my buddies have mostly passed on. — Norman Hinderer
Dorothy and Loren Koengeter, Chelsea: Life on the farm 50 years ago was about the time people started using tractors to do the hard work. We still had horses. I marveled at how good they were to work with. Much of the work was hard and they got very tired. When it was very hot they got very hot but never seemed to not want to work. This was also the time of the one room school, with one teacher for all grades. When I attended there were about 20 pupils. Some schools had 50. We had outside toilets and a pump for water. We’d pump a pail full and everyone dipped from that. In winter we had a large wash boiler placed on an electric plate. Then we warmed pupils’ lunches, which they’d brought in glass jars. Farmers didn’t go to town often. They mostly went to town on Saturday night so that the whole family could go. We didn’t buy many groceries because we raised beef, pork and chickens and canned many jars of fruits and vegetables.
Alton Grau, Chelsea: The best part of farm life, I think, was and is the independence and freedom. The difficult part was lack of money, especially during the 1930s depression. But everyone else had the same problems so we didn’t feel singled out. For the most part our food was grown on the farm and canned, pickled, smoked or salted. We used fat rendered from skunks and raccoons for congestion and cough. We made medicine from honey, lemon, and glycerin. In depression time there were many peddlers passing through the country side – Watkins, Raleigh, Jewel Tea– all with mobile vans selling groceries, baked goods and even fresh meat. Junk dealers would buy any and all metal — iron, copper, wire, etc. Sparrow catchers came at night with big nets to catch sparrows roosting in farm straw stacks. I went from farm to farm as a helper with a local thresher in the late 1940s. All six of our children were in 4H with various projects. Both boys and girls did farm chores. — Alton Grau
Diane and Ed Makielski, Saline: We first met on a blind date at Michigan State College, as it was then named. A year later, after graduation, we met again in Ann Arbor at West Park where Diane was a playground director and Ed had a job mowing for the parks department. Ed said he came down to the park for a drink of water and it turned out to be the most expensive drink he ever had. We both loved the outdoors and in the fall of 1959 we decided to purchase a farm and house together with Ed’s twin brother and his fiancé. In 1952 both couples married and took separate apartments in the farmhouse we had worked to restore. Both couples ran the farm for about 10 years. After that, Ed’s brother moved to Ann Arbor and we continued the farm as a berry farm. After years of marketing strawberries we have switched to raising raspberries and no longer market at Ann Arbor Farm Market. For many years we marketed raspberry plants nationwide and to foreign countries by catalog. Today we operate on a U-Pick basis only. We have met so many customers who have become friends. The people who pick their own are wonderful people. They are honest and caring and appreciative of the opportunity to get out in nature. We both have loved the country and continue to do so to this day. This is our 50/50 year; 50 years of marriage and 50 years in business. — Diane Makielski
Barbara and Leroy Wing, Ann Arbor: When we started farming 50+ years ago, tractors had just taken over for the horses. Then, tractors cost approximately $2,100.00 compared to the $30,000.00 to $100,000.00 they cost now. The bigger equipment such as hay balers and combines we have now do the work faster and with less labor. We had about 250-300 ewes and raised about 400 lambs a year. In the 1960s we sold the lambs and bought veal calves, which we still raise. We also buy feeder steers to raise. We raise soybeans, wheat, corn and hay. Hay being one of our biggest crops because of the large number of boarding stables for horses in this area. The price of farm products is not much higher than it was 50 year ago. — Barbara Wing
Ken and Joanne Zeeb: My great grandfather, George Zeeb came from Kerchentellensfurt, Germany in 1856 and settled in Scio Township. Zeeb Road was named for the original farm homestead. My great-grandfather lived in a log cabin until it burned. He then built our present home on Earhart in 1891. We remodeled the house in 1989 and still live there. It is a centennial farm. My grandfather owned a steam engine powered threshing machine and threshed for other are farmers. He also owned a saw mill and a complete workshop with forge, drill press and grinder. He did all his own repair and built many items for the farm. My father, Arthur Zeeb, built his home with lumber sawed at the family mill. While I was growing up we raise sheep, turkeys, chickens, pigs, milk cows and a few steers. We also had apple trees and grapes. We made cider and wine each fall. My father died the year I graduated from high school. I continued farming and went into dairying with all the crops going to the cattle. We married in 1956 and raised four daughters who helped with the farm work, including milking the cows. They are all married. We have nine grandchildren. Much of the farm land in our area has now succumbed to development.
Nathan A. (Al) and Ann Alber, Manchester: The Alber family settled in Freedom Twp. in June of 1855. Being of German heritage they were farmers who grew grains, forage and raised livestock. They also managed an orchard and cider mill. Horses powered the mill. In 1981 John M. Alber, my great grandfather purchased 75 acres form Jason Gillet. This was sold to my grandfather Michael P. Alber in December of 1887. He then installed a (modern) cider mill powered by a steam engine in 1890. This was replaced by a gasoline engine in 1911 and electricity in 1927. The 75 acres was then passed down in turn, to Nathan O. in 1938 to Nathan A. in 1973 (was certified a centennial farm in 1987) and to Michael A. Alber in 1992. Michael A. in 1998 chose to pursue other interests and sold the property. Ann and I still live on the farm by Silver Lake that was purchased by my grandfather in 1901, (certified a centennial farm in 2001). We have enjoyed our life together her. We have seen many changes over the years, perhaps the most significant of which was the transition from horses to the tractors of today. The advent of hybrid seeds and the use of chemicals for weed and insect control also made life on the farm easier and more profitable. I regret the seeming necessity of government farm subsidies and believe that they are destroying the values that were so prized by previous generations. — Al Alber
Robert and Selma Mast, Dexter: I have lived on a farm all my life. I was born in 1921 on the 100 acre farm that my grandfather had purchased in 1904. After my father married in 1920 he took over the farm and I worked with him during high school years. After graduation in 1938 I completed a one year agricultural course at MSU. After marriage in 1945 I was in partnership with my father. In 1959 I purchased the 120 acre farm directly across the road from my dad, where we still live. We live on Mast Road, named for our family. Since my father’s death, I’ve owned both farms. We farmed with horses until 1946 when we bought our first tractor. We milked cows, raised sheep and chickens until 1972 when we purchased more cattle and decided not to raise sheep and chicken. I was active in 4-H clubs for 10 years and was a leader for 33. I was also active in the State and Local Milk Producers Association, the County Farm Service Agency and the Township Planning Commission. My wife, Selma, helped with the farming, the cows, lawn work and gardening. She also was a 4-H leader for 25 years, with food and clothing projects. I am now semi-retired, renting the farm to a neighbor and helping when needed. I have never had time for a hobby, but have taken over the gardening and lawn work. We have enjoyed playing cards and doing some traveling over the years. — Robert Mast
Luke and Barbara Schaible, Manchester: Luke and Barbara were both born and raised on farms. In 1957 they married and purchased a farm on Fletcher Road, 2 miles from his homestead. They raised five children, 2 sons and 3 daughters. The dairy cows were sold in 1967 to focus on sheep and market lambs. Their sons now manage the bulk of the lamb operation. When Luke was 9 years old he begged his parents for an accordion. He formed a dance band in 1964 and continues to play for various community functions, weddings and other ethnic celebrations. We are blessed with eleven grandchildren and most of them play a musical instrument. The farm fence at the entrance to the farm reads “Trohlich Spielen & Singing.” Translated, that means “Happily playing and singing.” That’s been our story for the last 45 years! During our lifetime we witnessed many changes- from the one room schoolhouse in the country to consolidation in town, from farming with horses to tractors- from feeding with 5 gallon pails to computer controlled mechanization.
Maurice and Wilma Kingsley, Fowlerville: Maurice and I met at a barn dance in the spring of 1947. We attended dances at Mason and went to a lot of ball games as Maurice played softball, a game he still loves. We married in 1948 and bought our own farm in 1950, 120 acres for $1,500. We gradually increased the acreage to 700 acres. Our herd of dairy cattle has increased to 200 and we raised our own young stock. We also raise corn, hay, soybeans and a little wheat. We have six children and twelve grandchildren. Our two sons, living near by, are in partnership with Maurice. We have traveled to Mexico, Florida, Hawaii, California, New York and Alaska. Maurice hasn’t really retired. He enjoys going on errands for the farm, driving tractor, planting and helping with harvesting. — Wilma Kingsley
Bill and Judy Bamber, Howell: Bill is the third generation farmer – owner of his Livingston County land. His grandparents purchased the farm in 1892, which included 80 acres and a house. In 1911 Bill’s grandmother inherited money, which facilitated her desire to renovate the entire home, including plumbing with both cold and hot water. Most neighboring homes didn’t have indoor plumbing until after 1935, when electricity came to the area. In 1935 Bill’s father had a milking machine already installed when the electricity arrived. Bill’s parents purchased the home from his grandparents. The home has been beautifully refinished in passing down to the third generation. After 56 years as a dairy farmer, Bill sold his cattle and has become a hay farmer on his 285-acre farm. At present he also serves as the supervisor of Oceola Township, Livingston County after serving 35 years as a trustee. – Judy Bamber
Leola Wasem, Milan: I grew up on a farm and like all my family went to Michigan State College. My husband did not grow up on a farm but loved that type of work. In the summer of 1942, the first year of our marriage, we started to take vegetables from our farm to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. A short time later we added dressed chickens and eggs. Later we planted an apple orchard and in time that was our main crop. In the past 30 years we added baking, donuts and jam making to our sales. We now have a salesroom, which is open in season for u-pick fruit. Since my husband Ed died in 1986, my daughter and her husband run the orchard and I still run the kitchen.
Leonard and Virginia Mitchell, Holly: L.P. and I met at a Halloween dance in Holly, Michigan in October of 1946. In December of 1947 we married and I moved to the farm that had been in L.P.’s family since 1837. He is the 4th generation to live on this farm. He and his siblings were all born in the house in which we still live. I learned to cook on a wood stove which was quite an experience for a young bride. We heated water on the stove for washing clothes. In 1949 we remodeled the kitchen and I had a new electric stove and hot water heater. Having a large home created a center for many happy family gatherings. At one time, there was a period of great anxiety in our area. Five or more barns were burned down. Fortunately, our 100 year old barns were passed over. We have always farmed the 150 acres- feeding out sheep, raising chickens and selling the eggs to local markets. We also had a herd of Herford Beef Cattle and for a time, raised pigs. We switched from Herfords to Charolais Cattle in 1967 and still have a herd of about fifty head. In 1955 the farm couldn’t totally support our growing family of two sons and two daughters so L.P. started the excavating business. To this day he is still active in both businesses and enjoying every day to the fullest. Over the years, we have done some traveling and antiquing. We have been to Alaska, Hawaii and through most every state. — Virginia Mitchell
Bill and Betty Fishbeck, Plymouth: I am the fifth generation to live on and work our farm. In tracing our family tree back to the 1700s I discovered that since then we have been farmers in America. The home farm that we live on has been in the family since 1829. Farming is hard work with long hours and many worries but it is an enjoyable and rewarding life. Living on a farm allows us the advantage of enjoying Mother Nature at her best and worst. It is also a wonderful place to raise children. — Bill Fishbeck
Kirk and Marilyn Gordon, Saline: Our grandchildren are the 7th generation of Gordons to live on the family farm. Originally from Scotland, the Gordons settled in New York as bridge builders before coming to Michigan in the 1830s. Some of the bridges are still standing in the New York and Connecticut area. A working farm since 1875, we plant 248 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat on this land. Managing a farrow to finish operation, we annually market 1200-1400 hogs weighing an average of 235 lbs. each. In 1980, we decided to concentrate on the hog business, increasing our herd. I do the daily care of the baby pigs, including vaccinations, cutting of needle teeth, docking and castration. Kirk does all the feed grinding, planting and harvesting of the crops. Amazingly, we have been able to successfully manage our operation without the use of hired help. It is very hard work, but we are able to control the quality of our products by doing the work ourselves. The hog business had had many ups and down through the years, but it is a life’s work that just gets in the blood. With the prices of beans and corn at the lowest for a number of years and prices of fuel, seeds and machinery on the upturn, we practice no-till farming to cut costs and raise efficiency. And because of the economic uncertainties of farming in general, we have both worked outside the farm. I have been the Saline Township Clerk since 1970, and Kirk retired from Ford Motor Company in 1993, with over 30 years of service. We enjoy the hard work and independence farming offers, and we take great pride in preserving our family heritage for future generation of Gordons.
Bernard Ehnis & Virginia Maulbetsch, Ann Arbor: I was born and raised on the family farm on Earhart Road, which was purchased in 1873. I still own the farm although I do not live there. In 1942, at age 16, I tried my first independent farming adventure. I planted seven acres of wheat on a nearby farm. I plowed and fitted the ground with my dad’s International 10/20 tractor and planted it with a team of horses. I used seed wheat from my dad’s bin. Fertilizer was $35.00 to $40.00 a ton. Gas for the tractor was $.10 to $.12 a gallon. The horses and equipment didn’t cost me anything. The crop brought a little over $700.00. That was a lot of money then. That crop of wheat set my future. The next year I rented 30 acres and planted it all to wheat. I have planted wheat, along with other grains, every year since. Last year the year 2000, wheat price at harvest was about the same or less than the 1942 market price of $2.04 a bushel. Fertilizer was over $200.00 a ton and fuel was $1.25 or more a gallon. All the above make it harder to make a living at farming. I still love farming and look forward each spring to getting back into the fields and smelling the fresh tilled soil. It gives me a great deal of pleasure to watch the crops grow and mature. I enjoy the outdoors and harvesting the crops. Harvest is always a busy time, but enjoyable, both in the fields and at the grain elevator. It’s a time to see old friends and reminisce of better times and plan for next year. Farming has been good to my family and me. It has given us a good life.