Blood, sweat and tears: Four generations, one farm, 100 years

ADRIAN -- Along a stretch of gravel road southwest of Adrian stands a farmhouse with origins dating back to the late 1800s. As Francis Lonneman points out the original portions of the house, the pride is evident in his voice. This land -- 320 acr...

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Suzi and Francis Lonneman stand on the Lonneman Century Farm southwest of Adrian. The farm was originally purchased in 1915 by Francis’ grandfather. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

ADRIAN - Along a stretch of gravel road southwest of Adrian stands a farmhouse with origins dating back to the late 1800s. As Francis Lonneman points out the original portions of the house, the pride is evident in his voice. This land - 320 acres in all - has been in his family for 100 years and is now home to the third generation of Lonnemans.
“I was born in that house and we lived there until we moved here (into Adrian) - for 69 years,” said Francis, whose great-nephew, Brad Lonneman, now lives on the farm site.
It was Francis’ grandfather, John, who purchased the parcel in Section 26, Westside Township, in 1915, from Louis Mauch. The farm included a home and two, two-story barns - one for horses and the other for cattle.
“My grandfather had 15 children - 11 grew to adults,” Francis said. “He came from Germany, but never lived on (this) farm.”
John Lonneman emigrated to the United States as a young, single man. He met his wife, Elizabeth, and they settled near Little Rock, Iowa, where they raised their family.
“They actually broke up the prairie in Little Rock,” shared Francis.
His grandfather did quite well for himself as a farmer, owning three 80-acre parcels southwest of Little Rock, along with quarter-sections in the Little Rock and Ashton, Iowa, areas before purchasing the half section across the state line in Minnesota’s Nobles County.
“He owned 880 acres and he had it all paid for,” Francis said, the pride catching in his voice. As the Great Depression spread across the country in the 1930s, its impact claimed many a farm family, but not the Lonnemans.
When John died in 1934, his eight sons took over the farms. The Minnesota farm was rented, and eventually purchased, by John’s son, Antone.
“Antone and (his wife), Elizabeth, moved onto this ground in the spring of 1932,” said Francis, adding that they purchased the farm by 1948.
Antone and Elizabeth had six children prior to the move; the youngest, Anthony, was born the Christmas prior. Three more children were born into the family after they settled on the farm, including Francis, the second to the youngest.
“I was born in that house,” Francis said. “We got electricity in 1949; indoor plumbing in 1954. The house, the foundation was originally large fieldstones with a dirt floor.”
Before the introduction of indoor plumbing, Francis said he and his siblings would wake up on a cold winter’s morning to find a quarter-inch of ice on the water bucket.
Coal and wood were used to heat the home back then.
“Saturday night, when you got out of the bathtub, you went by the heater,” Francis said. “Before we had running water, we had a reservoir on the wood stove - that would warm the water from the oven and would get us the hot water for baths.”
Every Saturday night was bath night.
Then, on Sunday morning, Francis and his brothers had to carry out the bath water.
“Mom would pull the plug in the bathtub and it would run down a pipe and collect in a half of a 50-gallon barrel (in the basement),” he said. “We had to carry that water out and throw it in the grove.”
To make matters worse, the basement was home to bugs and salamanders. Francis still wrinkles up his nose just thinking about it.
There were other chores, too, divided among all nine of the kids.
“For me, being one of the youngest ones, we got the wood and the cobs in the house,” Francis said. “As you got older, you started helping milk and moved on up the line to do something heavier.”
The Lonnemans raised pigs, chickens and milking shorthorns, and farmed for many years with horses. Francis was 6 or 7 years old by the time the family got their first tractor - a 1942 ‘A’ John Deere.
While there was always work to do on the farm, the kids found time for play as well.
“We were always playing catch amongst ourselves with a baseball,” Francis recalled. “We used to call it hitting flies. One person would stand up and hit a ball to the others. We did that as soon as we could get out in the pasture in the spring and the ground was hard.
“When the loose hay got low in the winter, we had a basketball hoop in the barn,” he added. “We took lanterns up there - talk about dangerous. Later on we had electric lights up there.”
During the winter months, cards and games of Monopoly helped pass the time.
One of the worst jobs growing up on the farm, according to Francis, was having to go out and fix fence after flood waters from the creek flowing through the property knocked out the fence.
“I hated to fix the creek holes after a hot and heavy rain - that was the worst it could get,” he said. “That, and picking up rocks.”
In 1958, Antone and Elizabeth retired from farming and auctioned off his machinery and personal property. At that point, Francis and his brother, Orville, began farming the half-section together. Both men were still single at the time.
Then, in 1959, Francis married his high school sweetheart, Suzi, and they moved into a tenant house a quarter mile north of the Lonneman family farm.
They remained there until 1962, when Antone and Elizabeth moved into Adrian, and Francis continued to farm with his brother Orville in 1967.
At that point, Orville decided to quit farming and Francis and Suzi took over the operation, eventually purchasing the farm from his parents in 1972.
Francis and Suzi raised five children on the Lonneman farm - Kenny, Katherine, Mary Melissa, Duane and Jon. They also operated a Grade A dairy and raised hogs.
“The biggest thing we did, the barn where the horses used to be became a dairy barn,” said Francis of the changes to the farm site during their years of ownership.
“We were Grade A for quite a while,” said Suzi, while Francis said they milked cows for “too many” years - from 1962 to 1987.
“We raised our own replacement heifers - whatever those cows produced,” Francis said, adding that he never liked to have more than 90 head of cattle at one time. All of their kids helped with milking chores. 
Some of the most challenging times on the farm were during the winter months, when blizzards would strike and they’d be stuck for days - sometimes weeks.
“The blizzard in the winter of 1961-62 was bad,” recalled Francis. “We were living in the tenant house and we went to (Suzi’s) cousin’s wedding reception on the 22nd of February. It was on a Saturday. When we came home that Saturday afternoon, we ran the car in the chicken house and we didn’t get it out for six weeks.
“Farmers didn’t have any snow removal equipment,” he added. “We had an old Stanhoist loader on the A John Deere, but that wasn’t much for moving snow.”
The winter of 1968-69 was bad, too, recalled Suzi.
“There was five days where we couldn’t get the milk truck in,” she said.

The next generation

Francis and Suzi retired from farming in 2005 and moved into Adrian that November. Francis’ great-nephew, Brad Lonneman purchased the acreage at that time, and has since rented the farmland from the elder Lonnemans.
The biggest change to the farm site in recent years has been the addition of two hog confinement barns.
The Lonnemans are proud to see their family’s farm continue on in the family, and know it took a lot of hard work to reach 100 years of owning and farming the land.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears, but I really don’t think that we had it as tough as the generations before us,” Francis said. “We got running water the year I graduated from high school. My mom had a long struggle for a long time.”
The Lonnemans hope the farm remains in the family for generations to come.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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