WORTHINGTON — Will Gordon’s story began like a compelling work of Midwest historical

fiction: Orphaned at age two and left at an orphanage in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he was placed a few years later in rural foster homes where he was forced to work and endure conditions unpleasant enough that he ran back to the orphanage at least twice.

But when a kinder soul by the last name of Miller responsibly employed him and introduced him to the Herlein family north of Worthington, Will’s fortunes improved.

“The Herleins took him in and raised him from about age 14 until he was old enough to really be on his own,” said Will’s grandson, Galen Gordon.

“He married Clara Feit when he was about 22 or 23, and in 1920 he bought 160 acres from Emma Herlein.”

That same 160 acres is now the core of the Gordon family’s Century Farm, and the good-hearted Herleins have left their imprint on local history with other land they owned to the west, now known as the Herlein Wildlife Management Area.

“It’s a big public hunting and waterfowl area owned by the DNR,” said Galen. “That’s the original

Herlein family farm my grandfather worked on.”

Maybe because of his humble origins Will Gordon was inclined to lay deep roots, but either way his descendants have stuck together and become the type of clan others might look to as a model of cohesion and cooperation.

“We have a great family,” said Galen, commenting on the century his family has spent in pursuit of an agricultural production lifestyle.

“Sometimes when families lose their parents, they kind of distance themselves from each other, but we always try to get together a couple times or more each year, we have family meetings, and this land has been farmed continuously by direct descendants of Will and Clara Gordon since March 1, 1920.”

Galen, the fifth of six children born to Glen and Nina Gordon, reportedly gave his parents and siblings (LaVonne, Lynnette, Sharon, Wayne and Peggy — all of whom also contributed significantly to the family farming operation) a run for their money at times in his youth.

“They said I was ‘a pistol,’” laughed Galen.

Added Colleen, Galen’s wife of 52 years, “His mom would dress him in a red jacket so she could

always find him when he was exploring the farm.”

These days, Galen still explores — and works — the farm, in concert with his brother Wayne and son William.

“Wayne and I are both veterans; I was in the military in Berlin and Wayne served two years in

Vietnam,” said Galen. “Our father farmed alone for a couple of years, but we tried to come home and help while we were in college.”

Although decades ago the Gordons also grew small grains along with raising sheep, dairy and hogs, the predominant crops today are corn and soybeans.

“Occasionally we’ll do an oat field, or a little field of alfalfa,” mentioned Galen.

Galen has long had a keen interest in wildlife, which he accentuated with a University of Minnesota degree in wildlife biology. With Wayne holding a complementary degree in animal science, the two employ as many environmentally responsible farming practices as possible.

“We’ve put a lot of our marginal land into the Conservation Reserve Program,” said Galen, “and we have some land in the Minnesota RIM program.

“I’ve got the buffer strips along the creeks and streams, and we try to use minimum tillage and

conservation tillage as much as possible; we’re very conscious of wildlife and nature overall.

“And our children and grandchildren have the same philosophy; many are involved with hunting or fishing, and they love to come to the farm, walk around and look at nature.”

Glen Gordon’s sister, Josephine Gordon Jamieson, was a co-owner with Glen of the Century Farm property for over 30 years. While Josephine’s children, Roxann and Michael, still own “the north 80” that the Gordons rent for farming, Michael now lives in Kansas and Roxann in Arizona.

Glen and Nina Gordon died about 30 years ago, and in 1990 Galen and Colleen Gordon moved to the farm after buying the acreage from Galen’s siblings.

“We added on to the farm home a couple times, and the present home dates to the 1930s,” said

Galen.

In his infancy, Galen was one of seven family members living in the original two-bedroom house, which lacked a basement.

“My parents added rooms and a basement in 1948, and in 1990 we put on a family room and

attached garage,” said Galen.

He took a bigger step in 2012, buying two houses that were being removed when Highway 60 was improved.

“I put them together and added them to the house; it was a bigger addition than I was planning on, but I like to go green and hate to see something destroyed that’s still usable.”

All that extra space has come in handy, however, when hosting family get-togethers that regularly include 25 or more people.

“We have four children — Dawn who is married to Brad Odegard and lives in rural Granite Falls; Staci and her husband Michael Helwig, live in Osakis; William and his wife Dawn are in rural Worthington; and Joseph and his wife Jill are in Marshall,” listed Colleen.

“And we have 14 grandchildren between the ages of eight and 23. We peel lots of potatoes,” she laughed.

The extended family also regularly requests Colleen’s family-famous finger rolls.

“I used to make one pan and now I have to make two,” she said. “The grandkids love ’em and

usually finish up one pan even before the meal is served.”

Colleen and Galen are pleased that all four of their children are college graduates.

“Dawn has been a probation officer for 27 years, Staci was a financial accountant, Bill farms and owns a Worthington tax business, and Joseph flies for Southwest Airlines,” Colleen shared. “We’re very proud of how all of them have expanded their educations and professions.”

Daughter Staci was the Worthington High School exchange student to Crailsheim, Germany, in

1987-88. Coincidentally, she was born in Berlin, West Germany, when Galen was stationed there.

“Staci was born on Christmas Day in Berlin,” recalled Colleen. “She had dual German/American

citizenship until she was 18.”

Local son William (some know him as Bill or Billy) has attained a national profile as the 100th

president of the American Soybean Association.

“He worked his way up as a member of the local, state and national Soybean Associations, and we feel very proud of that.”

Certainly William’s great-grandfather — the orphaned Will — would be gratified to see how his

descendants have progressed and maintained the land he purchased with hope and a prayer.

“He put up a 40-foot windmill in the 1920s or ’30s, and even though it’s no longer functional, it’s

still a landmark in the area,” said Galen.

Suffice to say Will Gordon’s family has left a significant mark on the Nobles County agricultural

community over the past century, even though the pandemic has caused the Gordons to postpone their Century Farm celebration until 2021.

Observed Galen, “If you’re raised on the farm, you’re exposed to a lot of work — but we grew up

happy and enjoyed life, even though we didn’t have much cash or take a lot of trips.

“We all got along well then — and we still do today.”