Vaske farm established in 1913
WILMONT — As Nancy Vaske considers the history of the place that she calls home, she is struck by all the hard work that went into the Vaske family farm over the past 100 years.
“When you start out in 1913 building a farm, you have nothing but bare ground to begin with,” she explained. “Farming back then required a lot of back-breaking labor. Can you imagine walking down row after row of corn and picking it one ear at a time? Harvest was a two- to three-month project. It was a good man that could pick a wagonful a day. The only milk machine you had was you, all by hand, one cow at a time. Grandma grew all her own vegetables, and the only thing you bought at the grocery store was your staples, such as flour, sugar, etc.”
The farm in Section 14 of Larkin Township in Nobles County was first settled by the grandparents of Nancy’s late husband, Marvin Vaske. Henry and Josephine Vaske had been married for 13 years and were already parents of five children (they would eventually have nine) when they decided to buy the 160-acre plot of land in 1913.
“They lived on a farm outside of St. Kilian for a year while Grandpa and John Bruns built the house, and of course, the most important building on the farm, the barn. The thousands of nails they drove in by hand — that building was not going to fall down any time soon.”
Henry and Josephine eventually moved into town, and Henry died in 1932. The farm was rented to son Eugene, and his sister, Genevieve, kept house for him until she married Ray Penning.
“Eugene met a Lismore girl by the name of Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Diekmann, and they were married in 1941,” recounted Nancy. “That is the beginning of a new generation on the Vaske Farm. Grandpa passed on his love of the land to Eugene and Betty. They milked cows, grew crops, worked hard from sunup to sundown.”
Eugene and Betty added buildings and acquired more land, increasing their acreage to 320. Eugene contracted polio that made his back weak. Betty worked side by side with her husband. They raised six children: Marv, Marlene, Vonnie, Agnes, Larry and Duane.”
A fond memory of growing up on the farm for Vonnie Vaske Huisman was playing in the haymow.
“We kids would find new baby kittens, play hide-and-seek and build a fort,” she recalled. “We also spent lots of hours playing in the grove. Also, bringing lunch out to my dad in the field is a treasured memory; Mom would pack an extra cup, and I would get to have a little coffee and a sandwich with my dad while sitting against the tractor tire. I remember the smell of freshly turned dirt.”
The Vaske family’s horse, Flash, a snow white mare, figures prominently in Marlene Vaske Slason’s recollections.
“Dad bought her at an auction in Worthington,” said Slason. “I think she was part of an act in a circus, but due to some health problems she needed a new home. How could we be so lucky? Being a teenager, I thought I could do anything, you know, like jumping on her from the rear and rearing up on her like the Lone Ranger. Remember, I said I tried doing these things. I never said I did very well at it. Oh, but what fun she was! I’m sure I gave Mom every gray hair she had.”
Slason also recalls stacking bales, sleeping on the veranda on hot summer nights and going fishing for bullheads.
“Another thing we did nearly on a nightly basis was to kneel and pray the rosary,” she continued. “Mom and Dad put a lot of effort into raising their six kids in their Catholic faith. We never missed Mass on Sunday. … How many Wilmont kids over 65 remember May Crowning? We all dressed up in our very best and carried a bouquet of flowers to lay at the feet of Mary. I still remember singing those Latin songs.”
Eugene died in 1971, and Marv continued the day-to-day operation of the farm. He eventually took notice of one of the town girls, Nancy Bell.
“Marv and I always knew each other in Wilmont,” recalled Nancy, who was raised on Wilmont’s main street where her dad ran the locker plant. “He asked me one night to go out to coffee, and I said, ‘Of course not!’
But when Marv asked a second time, she accepted the invitation, and they got married in May 1974. They lived in town for two years and then bought a trailer and moved to the farm. When Betty purchased a home in Wilmont and moved into town, Marv and Nancy moved into the main house.
“It was a whole new experience when I moved out to the farm,” Nancy remembered. “I remember that the hog feeders kept banging and would keep me up all night. And me driving a tractor — Marv had a lot of white knuckles with me driving — but now I”m pretty good at it.”
Another memory from the early years of their marriage was being taught by her mother-in-law to make lye soap.
“She made the best soap, so I got it in my head that I wanted to learn to make it,” Nancy related. “She’d sit on this little stool in the basement and would have it all melted. Then she told me, ‘Here’s the secret. You can’t stir it too fast.’ So she went upstairs, and here I was, Nervous Nellie, stirring away. So when she came back down, of course it was all separated. ‘You stirred it fast, didn’t you?’ she said.”
Marv and Nancy had two daughters, Sarah and Anne.
“They learned by their dad’s side the beauty of nature and watching the new life in the spring such as animals being born,” said Nancy. “You can’t learn that in school. We raised a lot of swine, sheep, turkeys, ducks and geese. Marv, just like his father and grandfather before him, worked hard and had a special love for the land.”
Sarah Vaske now lives in Worthington and is an account manager for Prairie Livestock; and Anne Vaske lives in Adrian and is a registered nurse at the clinic in Luverne.
Marv, who in addition to farming worked at Dyke’s and later part-time at Hy-Vee, died in 2009 after suffering a fall on the farm. Nancy continues to live in the home place and is employed as the general manager at AmericInn Hotel in Worthington.
A family celebration of the farm’s century status is being planned for September.
“I don’t celebrate alone,” stressed Nancy. “Marv’s brothers and sisters and cousins all share in the special heritage of this farm. Part of it lives in them, because it was their beginning, too. God has richly blessed this farm and this family.”
Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327.