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Ailt (left) and Henrietta Aielts (right) pose with their oldest daughter, Marilyn Nienkerk, and the Minnesota Century Farm sign they received this summer. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

Aielts overcome hardships on century farm

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Aielts overcome hardships on century farm
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON — Walter and Vera Aeilts had been married for 23 years when they purchased a quarter section of land northwest of Bigelow in March 1914. The couple — natives of Emden, Germany — emigrated to the U.S. with their daughter, Minnie, and sons George and Will. They would eventually add eight more children to their family after arriving in America.

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According to Ailt Aielts, Walter’s grandson, the farm was initially to go to the couple’s oldest son, George. However, George and his wife, Katie, already owned a farm that came from Katie’s family and they couldn’t keep the Aeilts farm going.

“I don’t know what the deal was between Walter and Katie, so Dad (Will) took a chance at it and he made it,” said Ailt, son of Will and present owner of the 151.3-acre newly christened Minnesota Century Farm in Section 2, Bigelow Township.

“My dad had quite a bit of livestock in the half section that he lived on, on my mother’s side, so he made the down payment and he took it over,” Ailt explained. That was in 1937.

Will Aeilts, married to Nettie, moved onto the farm that same year with their family. Ailt, the oldest surviving son, was 17 at the time. He had an older brother who died in infancy, two younger brothers who also died in infancy, and a younger sister, Vivian.

At the time Will and Nettie moved to the farm, Will’s dad — widowed in 1920 — had been living in a house he bought in Rushmore.

“He thought he couldn’t make the payments, so my folks took him in,” Ailt said. “He would bring us the mail, and he liked to do a lot of work in the garden. He did a lot of work for my mom.”

Having his grandpa living on the farm, Ailt became well versed in the German language — Walter would speak in low German.

“German was all I knew until I started school,” Ailt recalled.

While Will and Nettie lived on the farm they made some subtle changes, adding a machine shed and a few other buildings. There was already a house and a barn on the farm when they purchased it.

Ailt grew up having to do a variety of chores, from milking cows to picking eggs, feeding hogs and helping with the crops.

Times were tough on the farm, particularly during the Dirty Thirties. Ailt said the family collected the eggs from its chickens and took them to town to sell, using the money to buy groceries.

Money was tight, and it didn’t help when the crops and crop prices weren’t good either.

“We had hail one time and lost a whole field of oats,” Ailt said.

The back of one family photograph detailed that in the ’30s, a bushel of oats sold for 9 cents, while corn was 10 cents a bushel.

Ailt attended one year of high school and then went to work on the farm full-time.

“He worked for low wages for his folks with the promise that he would inherit the farm,” said Henrietta, Ailt’s wife of nearly 71 years. “It was during the war time that he worked for his folks. He was excused from the Army because of that. (His parents) needed farm help.”

Henrietta, a native of Fulda, was teaching at a country school in northwest Iowa when she and Ailt met. A teacher friend of hers had told her about this nice neighbor she had — and at the same time told Ailt about this nice teacher friend she had.

“We met at a basket social,” Henrietta said with a grin. “The ladies would make a basket of supper and then they would auction them off.”

Ailt bought Henrietta’s basket.

“We ate that together,” Henrietta said.

The two were married on July 30, 1943, and Henrietta continued to teach — one more year in Iowa and the rest in Minnesota. In all, she taught for seven years.

The couple had moved onto the Aeilts family farm after their marriage, and four years later, in 1947, Will, Nettie and Walter moved off the farm and settled near Rushmore.

During those years, there were two homes on the property — Ailt and Henrietta lived in one, and Ailt’s parents and grandfather lived in the other.

“We had our separate gardens,” Henrietta said.

While Will was considered a “hog man,” Ailt focused on a different avenue of making money. With a knack for fixing things, he established his own repair shop on the farm, doing everything from mechanical work to welding.

“He overhauled cars and tractors,” added Henrietta.

One of the greatest joys, Ailt said, was seeing some of the old crippled motors brought to the farm and sending them back off the farm in good running order.

Ailt grew corn and soybeans on the land and also raised hogs, cattle and chickens. In addition, Ailt and Henrietta raised three children on the farm — Marilyn, born in 1944; Alvin in 1948; and Carol in 1952.

“They were all leap year babies,” Henrietta said. Marilyn Nienkerk now resides in Richfield, Alvin in Worthington and Carol in Coleman, S.D.

Ailt and Henrietta sold their acreage in November 2012, but still own more than 150 acres of the original parcel purchased by Ailt’s grandfather. It’s rented out now, and the individual who purchased the acreage will have the first right to buy the farm land when the family decides to sell.

“It’s progress, I guess,” said Ailt. “It’s about time to set the shovel to the side, you know.”

Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at
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