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Vrchota farm settled by family in 1897

AARON HAGEN/DAILY GLOBE Joe Vrchota (from left), Pat Reckard and Jim Vrchota pose with their Century Farm plaque outside the current home on the Vrchota farm.

JACKSON -- It all started with a train ride.

More than 100 years ago, Frank Vrchota and his family took a train from Chicago to Spirit Lake, Iowa.

"They lived in Chicago first," said Joe Vrchota. "I don't think it was a real long time. Then, I remembered Dad always saying they took the train from Chicago to Spirit Lake because that's all the farther the railroad went. They rented a horse and buggy to come up here to look at the land."

Now owned by Joe and his four siblings, that original land was recently honored as a Century Farm.

"After Dad passed away in October 2010, the farm went to the children, and we are proud that the farm has been in the family that long," Joe said. "We just decided we would get the recognition for the century farm."

The sign commemorating the achievement will be placed somewhere on the farm.

"We're probably going to put it up on a building outside," Joe said. "I don't know if we'll make anything to display in the yard or not. We might -- it hasn't been decided yet."

Descendents of Bohemia, the Vrchotas settled in Chicago before taking the train ride to Spirit Lake.

"There was a shack or something on here and they stayed overnight," said Pat Reckard, one of the current owners of the land.

"The next morning, they got back down to Spirit Lake and took the train back to Chicago," Joe said. "I don't know how long after that it was they would have bought it. They followed through on it to buy it and moved up here."

The farm has been in the Vrchota family for more than 100 years. Frank Vrchota originally purchased the 120 acres in 1897 at $24 per acre.

"We are quite late," Joe said. "The farm I live on is my mom's farm, and that was designated a century farm back in 1993. That came into the family in 1889. I know at the time Mom applied and did get century farm recognition for that farm, but they didn't do it on this farm."

"I don't think Dad wanted to," Pat said.

"Dad was the type -- he didn't want to draw attention," Joe said. "I think he opted not to do it. The years went by and nobody did anything. Now that it's been passed on to another generation, I wanted to get the recognition."

While Frank was the original owner, the land has passed through many others. However, between Frank's son and grandson, the two owned the land for more than 100 years.

"I think with the generations now, a lot of it is getting sold out of the family," Joe said. "You don't have the small family farms anymore. The family members have left the farm and moved to the city or wherever or just not engaged in farming. They eventually just sell it. In past generations, if you were raised on a farm, typically one of the sons would take it over. Then it would just get passed on and stay in the family."

"You could support a family on 100-some acres," Pat said.

"You could have just a small farm," Joe said. "You could have 120 or 160 acres and make a living. Nowadays, that doesn't work."

The original owner, Frank, was born in Bohemia, but his son Joseph was born in Chicago.

Frank owned the land for 7.5 years. Joseph Vrchota then owned the property for 50.5 years. From there, Anna Vrchota -- Joseph's wife -- along with John Vrchota, Charley Vrchota, Frank Vrchota, Mary Budik and Anne Hample (her children) each had a piece of the property.

"After Grandpa passed away, it went in shares between Anna and the children," Joe said. "The paperwork shows they all had an interest in the property."

After Anna died, Frank bought out the rest of his siblings and owned the land for 52 years.

"He was born in the house down there," Pat said, pointing to the old house sitting on the property. "He had congestive failure and he always said he wanted to die on the farm. We were able to have him here under hospice. He always said he was born on the farm and wanted to die on the farm, and we're happy we could do that for him."

His children: Joe, Pat, Jim and Ken Vrchota and Diane Moravec now own the land. There are eight children in the family, but three were bought out along the way.

Along with farming, the original owner -- Frank -- also did some bricklaying.

"Great-grandpa built the house that was on here," Joe said. "There is a house right down here where Dad's cousin lives, and he built that house, too. The farm place where I live, he built that house. He built several houses in the area. They were all covered in brick."

The house that sits on the property in Hunter Township was a school building. Originally three-quarters of a mile away, the building was moved in 1961.

"After the school closed, they were selling everything and they were selling the building," Joe explained. "Our dad bought the schoolhouse building and remodeled it into a house."

It was the school Joe's father, Frank, attended.

"He went to the eighth grade," Pat said. "He always said he bought the school so he could finish his education."

Corn, soybeans, small grains and stock cows were originally raised on the farm.

"There were hogs along the way," Joe said. "Back with Grandpa, they would have had hogs. And they probably would have had some horses, too."

Currently, none of the owners farm the land, and it's rented out. Jim currently lives in the schoolhouse-turned-home.

Joe works at the Valero ethanol plant by Welcome, Pat is a homemaker, Jim works at Rosenboom Machine and Tool, Diane lives in Excelsior and works at a bank while Ken lives in Edina and is a property manager for office buildings.

Even though none of the siblings are farming the land, the memories flowed when sitting around the table in the house they once called home.

"When Mom wanted to get rid of us, she always told us to go outside and find something to do," Pat said. "We'd be in the grove and everything just playing. We didn't have any cousins or anything -- it was always just us eight playing."

"We always had enough to make a team and play," Joe said. "In the wintertime, one memory would be the hill here. We would always slide down the hill. There was a couple times the snow would really drift in, and we had really tall drifts and we'd play on that. Even in the wintertime, we'd spend a fair amount of time outside."

There were also animals to keep the family busy.

"We had chickens and cattle at that time, so in the summer we had to clean out barns and the chicken coop," Pat said. "We had to walk beans. That's one thing nobody does anymore -- walking beans. We were picking rocks and baling hay. I enjoyed growing up on the farm; I like being out where it's quiet."

While the family is grown and spread throughout Minnesota, the farm is still enjoyed.

"For Mom and Dad's 40th anniversary, we started where we'd camp out -- everybody would pitch their tents and everything," Pat said. "We've done that every year since. Even now, after Dad is gone, the grandkids really enjoy it. We have our tents out and have a big bonfire. Mom and Dad always looked forward to that so much -- to have everybody together."

The farm is set back from the road, offering ample space for play.

"When we were little, we never went on the road or anything," Pat said. "We always had enough to ride our bikes around here. That was something, too -- we only had two bikes, we would have had to take turns."

"We learned to share," Joe added. "There was eight of us, so we all didn't get our own things."

Farming the land was a family affair shared among everyone.

"When we were in the field, we would go out there with the old car," Jim said. "Mom would take the old '48 out there with us and the dog. I remember when he was plowing, we would sit down in the furrow -- we were short enough we could sit down in the furrow."

Frank's wife, Mary, often helped on the farm.

"She was an only child, too, so she had to help her dad with a lot of the farm work and help in the house," Pat said of her mother. "There are a lot of pictures of mom driving tractors."

"When we were younger, she was always out walking beans," Jim said. "When we were little, we kind of stayed up in the yard, but we'd always wander out in the field when her and Dad were out there walking beans. She would get kind of disgusted with us because we wouldn't stay home and we would be getting in the way."

Mary died in October 2005.

"She did a lot of work around here, too, out in the field," Jim said. "She grew up doing that."

"She was an only child, so she was her dad's hired man," Joe said. "Living here with Dad, she didn't have any problem going out and jumping in a tractor and working the fields."

One of Frank's hobbies was photography. He had slides and would share history with his family.

"That was our entertainment," Joe said.

When family came over, the slides would be shown to re-live the family history.

"History was important to him," Pat said of her father.

And now, the Vrchota family name is etched into history as a Century Farm.

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen can be reached at 376-7323.