On the banks of Beaver Creek, Swensons mark 100 years on family farm
LUVERNE — Granite outcroppings, green pastures and gently sloping farm fields provide a serene setting for the descendents of Olof Olson, who celebrate this year a great-grandfather’s investment in land and the firm foundation it laid for 100 years and three generations of the Swenson family.
Olson, who emigrated with his parents from Norway, homesteaded south of Luverne in 1878, where he and his wife, Anna, raised three children — two daughters and one son. The home place was gifted to one of the daughters, with Olson purchasing separate 320-acre parcels to farm on shares with his other daughter, Rose, and son, August, northwest of Luverne.
It’s the half-section he bought for Rose (Charles) Swenson that is being recognized this year as a Minnesota Century Farm.
Located along the banks of Beaver Creek in Springwater Township’s Section 24, the now 160-acre farm is owned by Charles and Rose’s grandson, Vince Swenson, and his wife, Shelly. They are the fourth-generation owners of the property, and the third generation to call the farm home.
“Charles and Rose moved on here when (great-) grandpa bought it,” shared Vince, adding that the land was deeded to Rose in 1943.
The couple raised four children on the farm — three sons and a daughter — and had a few milk cows, some pigs, cattle in the pasture and horses to farm the land. They built a new home on the farmstead in 1949, complete with three bedrooms upstairs and a landing, which was also eventually used as a bedroom.
An addition was constructed several years later, and an attached garage was built in the 1970s.
“Our living room is probably the size of someone’s bedroom in a new home,” said Shelly, noting how each room of the house has a door — unlike the open concept living spaces created today.
“When the house was originally built in 1949, it didn’t have running water in it,” added Vince. Indoor plumbing arrived in the 1960s, he shared. The Swensons connected to rural water in 2015.
“We’ve had issues where we’ve had to go out to the creek (for water),” Shelly said, noting instances over the years where they were without electricity for hours at a time.
Following Charles’ death, Rose remained on the farm until her death at the age of 59 as a result of cancer. She kept the house full, though, with youngest son, Douglas “Doc” remaining on the farm as a lifelong bachelor. The oldest of Charles and Rose’s children also stayed on the farm. Charles Jr. “Chaz” moved his wife, Cecilia, to the Swenson farm after their marriage. Over time, the couple had 11 children — the youngest of whom is Vince. The same year he was born, the family moved to a larger farmhouse two miles west of the Swenson farm, giving Doc a much quieter home of his own. Doc became the farm’s sole owner in 1964, when he bought the shares from his siblings.
“My dad and my uncle farmed together so we were here half the time,” Vince shared, adding that his mom, Cecilia, kept a big garden on the Swenson homestead.
As kids, Vince and his siblings both worked hard and played hard on the farm. Their dad operated a custom shelling business, so the boys were kept busy shelling corn, baling hay and walking beans all summer long.
“We fished the river and we explored; we played a lot of Kick-the-Can,” Vince said. “We very seldom went to town, other than going to church. We maybe went two to three times a year to Sioux Falls. We were just always working on the farm.”
Vince said his dad and brother grew corn and oats on the farm for many years.
“I can remember in the 1970s trying to convince my uncle to go to soybeans. He was one of the last people to switch from oats to soybeans,” he said. “We were probably one of the last farmers to still plant with a four-row planter and still pick corn for cattle feed, too. We did that up until 2000.”
Vince said his uncle had a hard time making the conversion from horses to gas-powered machinery as well.
“He was very hard to get to advance with technology,” he said. “He just wanted to farm the old way like they always did.
“I can remember in the 1980s the first combine my dad and uncle bought,” he added.
In addition to growing crops, Doc raised a couple hundred head of cattle on the Swenson farm in the 1970s and 1980s — considered a large operation at that time, Vince shared.
Vince began farming alongside his dad and Douglas in 1983, upon his graduation from high school, and also rented a couple of quarters on his own. In 1990, he gave up renting and concentrated on farming the land owned by his dad and uncle, and in 1992, he and Shelly moved onto the Swenson farm to be its caretakers. They raised a son, Casey, and a daughter, Katie, on the farm. Both are now married, with Casey living in Brandon with his wife, Lindsey, and two children, and Katie and her husband, Jesse Peterson, living in Luverne with their two children.
When Douglas died in 2002, half of the 320-acre parcel was gifted to his nieces and nephews, and the other half to Vince. That same year, the nieces and nephews sold off their parcel, and Vince decided to quit farming and take a job with CHS in Luverne.
“All of the machinery was sold off,” Vince said, noting that he rents out both the farmland and the roughly 50 acres of pasture.
“My son was (16) at the time and I gave him the choice if he wanted to farm,” Vince shared. “I probably would have kept farming if my son had shown any interest in it.”
“He knew he didn’t want to be a farmer,” added Shelly. “And yet, our grandson (age 4) comes and thinks he owns the place. He’s the one that could possibly be the farmer. The (boy) is heart and soul tractors and cattle.”
If that is the case, the future of the Swenson family farm will remain a part of the family for generations to come.
“I think probably my son will build a new house along the river here, if me and Shelly don’t before that,” shared Vince.