ELLSWORTH — Born in Greetsiel East Friesland, Germany in 1878, Meinert Boyenga was 10 years old when he and his parents crossed the Atlantic Ocean for the land of opportunity in America. The family initially made its way to Cleves, Iowa, where Meinert grew up and found the love of his life, Reka Schultz, a native of nearby Ackley.
After their marriage, the couple lived on a small acreage in the area and farmed, while Meinert also worked as a milk hauler, using horse and wagon to haul whole milk from area farmers to a creamery, and then haul the skim milk back to the farmers to feed to their livestock. During those early years of married life, they welcomed three sons — Jacob, Fred and Ernest — and daughter Bena.
In late 1909, while visiting his sister in Rock County’s Kanaranzi Township, Meinert learned of an opportunity to rent a nearby farm for $3 per acre. Before March 1, 1910, Meinert’s brother, Evert, and their hired man loaded the cattle and farm machinery on a train bound for the Ellsworth depot, as the buildings on the farm they were going to rent were already empty.
Reka and the four children were the next to travel by train to Ellsworth, followed by Meinert a day or two later, bringing with him their horses, furniture, chickens and the dog.
“When the Boyenga family came to this area in 1910, there were no actual roads, just dirt paths,” according to a recorded family history. “Meinert later had two of his sons run teams of horses to help build the roads in Kanaranzi Township.”
By the end of 1912, their fifth child, Calvin, was born.
Meinert worked hard to grow the family’s farming business, purchasing an Avery threshing machine with three other people in 1917. Two years later, he and Reka purchased a farm in the northwest quarter of Section 23, Kanaranzi Township. That farm is celebrating a century of continuous Boyenga family ownership this year.
The 160-acre parcel was originally owned by the St. Paul and Sioux City Railroad, which sold it to a land speculator who, in turn, sold it to Ole and Mary Tostenrud in 1889 for $1,750. The Tostenruds built a large, five-bedroom home on the site in 1902 which, through some renovations over the years, remains home to the Boyengas today.
Meinert and Reka purchased the farm on Feb. 28, 1919 for $36,800, or $230 an acre — a fairly high price for land at the time, according to the family.
Within a year, field tile was installed — all of it dug in by hand — and some of that tile still works today. Electricity arrived to the farm in 1921 or 1922, when the line was built to Ellsworth.
Meinert purchased and rented additional land in the area over time, and Jacob, Fred and Ernest all eventually moved to nearby farms. Bena, who also lived in the area, died while giving birth to her second child.
Meinert and Reka remained on the farm in Section 23 until 1941, when they moved into Ellsworth. Their youngest, Calvin, had married in 1940, and his wife, Beatrice, joined him on the Boyenga farm. Calvin and Beatrice farmed the land, raised livestock and raised a family on the site, including daughter Mary and sons David, Paul and Dennis. Calvin had purchased 80 acres of the farm, but It wasn’t until Meinert died in 1960 that the remainder was transferred through inheritance.
In 1979, Calvin and Beatrice retired and bought a home in Luverne when their son Paul and his wife, Diane, moved to the Boyenga farm.
“I started farming in 1974 and had rented some other land and worked with my dad,” shared Paul. “When he was getting ready to retire, we rented the farm from him for a while before we purchased it.”
Now in his 46th year of farming, Paul said he’d always enjoyed farm work.
“It seemed like you were always self-entertained — you were busy all the time with milking and gathering the eggs. In the summer, you didn’t really get to town to do things with kids from school because you were always busy on the farm,” Paul shared.
“Back then, you did things with the neighbors like baling hay. Now, it’s gotten more isolated and people are more on their own or independent.”
Paul graduated from Ellsworth High School and completed two years at then-Worthington Community College before officially starting his career in farming. At the time, his uncle Jake offered him a quarter-section to farm.
“That’s since been purchased by my older brother, David, but I still farm it,” Paul said, noting that David resides in Bloomington, his sister Mary is in Paynesville and his younger brother Dennis farms near Ellsworth.
Though Paul grew up with livestock on the farm — a dozen milk cows, a few stock cows, pigs and chickens — the animals were gradually phased out and the emphasis turned to crop farming.
“It got to the point that in the livestock industry, everything was getting really big and we didn’t want to go that route,” he said. Today, the farming operation consists of corn, soybeans and some grass hay.
Up until just a few years ago, the Boyengas still had the threshing machine purchased by Meinert not long after they settled in Rock County.
“We were trying to clean up some of the stuff around the acreage and sold the threshing machine to some Amish people in northeast Iowa,” Paul said. “They came here and got it and were going to restore it and use it or use it for parts.”
Approaching his 67th birthday this year, Paul isn’t sure how long he will continue to farm the land. He and Diane have one son, Brian, who works for the University of South Dakota and lives in Vermillion. Brian and his spouse, Travis Hahler, as well as their dog, Burton, enjoy visits to the farm, and Brian helps with field work and harvest when he can.
“(Brian) probably won’t be actively farming as an occupation,” said Paul. “Hopefully, ownership of this century farm will continue into the fourth generation.”