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Gerdes farm had one of the biggest barns around

MOUNTAIN LAKE -- Marvin and Yvonne Gerdes recently bought a house in town, but they plan only to spend winters there, returning to the farm they've called home for most of their lives during the warmer weather months.

"If it weren't for the Minnesota winters," Marv lamented. "We've got a half-mile driveway, so snow does get to be a problem."

The Gerdes family farm was acknowledged as a Century Farm last month at the Cottonwood County Fair. Prior to the ceremony, the Gerdeses did some research and learned that the land was once owned by the railroad, even though the property is more than two miles from the nearest rail line.

"My grandfather bought it in 1907," Marv explained. "We don't know how long he lived here before he bought it. He came from Britt, Iowa. That's where his family moved; he came from Germany when he was 12 years old. I don't know how long they lived in Iowa. They called him 'Gerd,' but in the record books, it's George.

"On the Sunday afternoon prior to getting the award, we went through the main abstract and really got an education," Marv shared. "My grandmother couldn't write, so when she had to sign it, she just put an X, and somebody had to initial her X as the authority."

Gerd died quite young, leaving the farm to his wife and son, Otto, Marv's father.

"My dad was a minor when his dad died, so the farm first went to my dad and his mother. He was too young to own the farm, probably 17, something like that. Not too many years after that, his mother died, which left him alone. Then he got married, and they just kept living on the farm."

Marv, his two brothers and a sister, grew up on the farm that came to be identified with nearby Eagle Lake.

"My dad milked cows all his life. I don't know what his dad did. I presume he took over from his dad. We used to have every animal -- chickens, hogs, feeder cattle, but mainly cows. As a kid, I had to get up and go milk cows in the morning. I have that indelibly imprinted on my forehead.

"I remember my mom used to go out to the separator room and clean out all the machines every day. We did everything from cleaning the barn to bedding the cows. My dad ran a threshing machine to quite late in life. He liked the pile of loose straw so the cattle could lay in it."

The Gerdes farm was once distinguished by a large barn, which was replaced by a metal structure when it began to lean a bit too much.

"We don't have any animals now, other than cats and dogs, but I miss it," said Marv. "It was a real tall barn, one of the biggest barns around. I would say it was 40 feet tall. When my dad still had milk cows, we'd fill it with loose hay. He didn't take to baling. In the wintertime, when we didn't have cows to milk, we had hay to pitch loose. I don't know how it could hold all that hay, but it did."

There's another metal machine shed, but the farm site also includes the original chicken barn and a couple of grain bins.

"The house is still original," Marv noted. "When my granddad moved on here, I think there was a sod house, but it had a wooden kitchen. Then they went and moved the wooden kitchen and attached and built more on to it, and that house is still here. We're living in it. It was probably built in 1915."

At one time, there was another 80 acres attached to the farm in the section to the west, which was sold off, accounting for the long driveway. Now, the Gerdes farm encompasses 180 acres, with 100 of that having the century status.

"It's very pretty," described Marv. "We've got a lot of huge trees. I get a little scared once in a while when a big wind comes for fear it's going to take a few of them down. I cross my fingers and whisper a little prayer."

Twenty-five years ago, Marv took a job at the post office to supplement the family's income. Yvonne continues to work for the postal service today.

"I am almost completely retired," Marv said. "I didn't have a lot of land and couldn't see myself getting too big, not big enough, at least, so I took a part time job off the farm. I retired from that about the same time I retired from the farm. We've been living on the farm 15 years without farming."

Marv and Yvonne have four sons and one grandson -- no farmers in the bunch.

"They are all doing good, and my wife and I talk about that many times, how it's because they grew up on the farm, had to work hard when they were kids, and that's carried over into their adult lives," Marv reflected. "But no farmers. I have one son that sells fertilizer to farmers, one that fixes cars for farmers, and one is a veterinarian. One is treasurer of a school district in Rochester -- only one that's not a farm-related job."

Even when Marv and Yvonne make the move into their house in town, the farm will continue to be home for the Gerdes clan. Their grandson is already questioning where they will spend Christmas this year, Marv shared.

"It's been a great life," he said. "I wouldn't exchange it for anything."

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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