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Century Farm: Schillings represent fourth generation on rural Rock County farm

ELLSWORTH -- John Bergman never liked to talk about the family he left behind in his homeland of Wiemer, Germany. At age 18, he found himself living in a country in turmoil, under a leader determined to put Germany at war.Bergman chose to walk aw...

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Craig and Twyla Schilling stand next to the newly completed sign installed on their farm noting its century status. The farm was settled by Twyla’s great-grandparents in 1916. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

ELLSWORTH - John Bergman never liked to talk about the family he left behind in his homeland of Wiemer, Germany. At age 18, he found himself living in a country in turmoil, under a leader determined to put Germany at war.
Bergman chose to walk away from his homeland - away from his family - and boarded a ship headed for the United States and the promise of freedom and fertile farmland.
His journey to America ultimately led him to central Iowa’s Grundy Center, and in 1902, at the age of 31, he married Grace Welp in Kamrar, Iowa.
Bergman became friends with Harry and Rudolph Klosterbuer during his years in Iowa. When the Klosterbuers and their wives - twin sisters - decided to move to southwest Minnesota, the Bergmans followed suit. John and Grace initially settled on a farm south of Ash Creek, adding six children to their family over the next dozen years. Their youngest, Josephine, was born in October 1914, and now resides in the Twin Cities at age 101.
When Josephine was 2, in 1916, her parents purchased 160 acres from Michael Burke in the northeast quarter of Section 23, Kanaranzi Township, Rock County. There was a house and a barn, as well as a small garage, granary, chicken house and a smaller barn on the site.
It was here that the Bergman family raised corn, oats, alfalfa, cattle and hogs.
“He was a water witcher,” said Twyla Schilling, a great-granddaughter of John and Grace, and current owner of the farm with her husband, Craig. “He raised his own willow trees for witching water. He witched many wells in the community and around Ellsworth.”
John and Grace farmed together until 1931, when John lost his battle with Bright’s Disease, a chronic inflammation of the kidneys for which there was no remedy or cure. He was 61.
Grace remained the owner of the farm until 1953, when it was sold to the couple’s oldest son, Joseph.
Joseph was 50 years old when he took ownership of the farm. A bachelor, he farmed on his own, growing corn, oats, alfalfa and eventually soybeans on the 160-acre farm.

Joseph actively farmed the land until 1969, when the family farm was sold to his nephew, Stan Wessels, and his wife, Gert. Stan had grown up at Ash Creek, and he and Gert were living just a couple of miles down the road from the Bergman farm when they had the opportunity to buy it.
Twyla was 2 years old when the family moved to the northeast quarter of Section 23, Kanaranzi Township.
“And I haven’t left,” she said with a grin.
Twyla is the third youngest of four children adopted by Stan and Gert Wessels. They grew up on the family farm, each having their own chores to do.
“We worked a lot of cattle here,” Twyla said. “We did have some cow-calf (pairs) up on the hill and we had feeder cattle; we raised hogs.
“I sat out in the hog barn many nights - that was my job, to save the babies,” she added. “I had to clean their mouths. I’d sit on top of the hog crate and make sure (the sows) didn’t lay on them.”
All four of the Wessels children were active in 4-H. They showed cattle and rabbits, and Gert taught the girls how to sew.
“(The rabbits) would multiply really fast,” Twyla shared. “Mom butchered them and we would eat them.”
Her brother, Terry, though, thought the rabbits were his pets, so they always kept it a secret.
“It didn’t matter what it was, we were eating chicken,” Twyla said with a laugh.
Her chores on the farm included feeding the rabbits and picking eggs from underneath the laying hens.
“I hated them dumb things,” Twyla said.
She and her siblings also took care of feeding milk replacer to the baby calves.
“Dad had garbage cans rigged up with nipples around the outside so we would feed all the calves,” she said. “He was always trying to come up with easier ways to do things.
“Saturday morning we couldn’t watch cartoons until the chores were done,” she added. “Nowadays, these kids don’t know what chores are.”
Stan and Gert built a new home for their family on the farm in 1976, right alongside the old house that was eventually torn down.
The old house is the source of many memories for the Wessels kids. Twyla recalled the little horsey that sat on the front porch for the children to ride on. As they grew older, their fun turned to pranks.
Twyla shared a story about how her parents frequently hosted card club with other couples, and when they did so, the kids were always sent upstairs and out of the way.
In their old house, they had a floor vent that allowed the kids to not only look downstairs, but listen in and play tricks as well. For instance, they would sometimes take peanuts and drop them through the vent, right into the bouffant hairstyle of one of the female card players.
When the new house was nearly completed, Twyla and her older sister, Tammy, couldn’t wait to sleep in their new bedrooms.
“Tammy and I were the first ones to sleep in it,” she said. “We put our sleeping bags in our bedrooms and we slept there. We crawled through the window in the morning to go back home for breakfast.”
During the summers, the family always found time for camping and vacations, and during the winter months, they’d find their own fun around the farm.
Twyla recalled years where the snowbanks were so large, they could climb on the roof of the chicken barn and slide down the snow bank.
“Mom always talked about Dad having to dig out of the house,” she added.
During those snowstorms, a Wessels tradition was to load up the family on one of its tractors and drive to the Cliff and Sharon Schilling farm about a mile and a half down the road, where they’d gather to make homemade ice cream. The two families took turns hosting the ice cream-making extravaganza - which was done with an old hand-crank ice cream maker, Twyla said.
Cliff and Sharon are uncle and aunt to Twyla’s husband, Craig. The two attended Ellsworth Public School together and were high school sweethearts.

“You’ve known me more (years) than you haven’t known me,” Twyla told her husband. “I’m two weeks older than he is.”
Craig and Twyla married in 1989, settling on a farm south of Ellsworth that Craig had purchased after high school.
“Craig was always planning to move to his dad’s farm on the state line,” Twyla said.
However, when Twyla’s dad announced his plans to retire from farming, they decided to purchase the Wessels farm instead.
“Dad had the farm sale and we ended up buying most of his machinery,” said Twyla. “It wasn’t too hard to move back home. My brothers, neither one of them were interested in farming.”
Stan and Gert initially moved to Luverne and later purchased an acreage just down the road from the family farm.
“After he retired, Dad helped Craig quite a bit,” Twyla said.
“He helped farm for 10 or 12 years at least - probably more than that,” added Craig.
They grew corn and soybeans on the farm, raised hogs for several years and had cattle up until about a decade ago, Craig said.
The livestock setup remains in place, including silos, a feed shed and cement feeding floors. Though the lots have been vacant for a while, Craig said the farm will once again be home to cattle beginning this fall. Craig and Twyla’s son-in-law, Aaron Spykerboer, has a cow-calf operation and wants to be able to grow his herd.
“We have a little grandson, Axel,” Twyla said. “We’re hoping he’ll come over to feed the cows and stop in the house and ask Grandma for cookies.”
Aaron is married to the oldest of the Schilling daughters, Dani. They reside in rural Rock Rapids, Iowa, and Dani works as a graphic designer for Simply Said.
Middle daughter McKayla attends the University of South Dakota and serves in the National Guard, and youngest daughter Karli will be a senior this fall at Luverne High School.
They represent the fifth generation to call this Rock County farm home. As they grew up, they witnessed several changes made by their parents to the site.
The old barn was taken down in 2007, with a shop constructed in its place. Improvements were made inside the house, and Craig added more grain bins along the south side of the building site.
The one remaining original building to the farm is a small garage their youngest daughter has turned into a house for her menagerie of cats.
“It’s called the cat house now,” Twyla said with a laugh.
Though Craig and Twyla have many more years of farming planned in their future, they hope one day to pass the family farm onto the next generation.
“It’s just very important for me to keep the farm in the family,” Twyla said. “Watching my mom and dad grow up here farming, and being able to take over that is very heartwarming. (We want) to try to do it as good as my dad did it. He was a good farmer, and we learned from the best.”
Stan Wessels died June 11 under hospice care. Gert now resides in Luverne.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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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