Century Farm: Promise of a new house leads Hamann family back to Rock County farm

Eleven family farms in the area are being recognized as Century Farms in 2019.

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David and Melvin Hamann stand near the pair of barns on the Hamann Century Farm in Luverne Township, Rock County. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

LUVERNE — Just south of Luverne, three Boer goats, a donkey and a pair of alpacas graze in the pasture, chickens roam the farmyard and the farm cats and dog laze about in the sunshine.

This sprawling acreage on the hillside east of the Rock River now belongs to David and Lisa Hamann, the fourth generation of Hamanns to call the site in Section 24, Luverne Township, home during the last century.

It was David’s great-grandfather, E.H. Hamann, who initially purchased the 120-acre parcel, filing the warranty deed in October 1919. E.H., born in June 1870 in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, came to the United States with his family when he was 2.

“They moved to Benton County, Iowa for 10 years and then they moved to Rock County in 1896,” shared David.

E.H. and his wife, Annie, raised their family — two boys and four girls — in the southwest quarter of Section 24. Their sons, John and Ernest “Ernie,” received the farm when their parents’ estate was settled in 1945 and paid out their sisters. Ernie acquired the southwest quarter while John, the eldest, received the land in the northwest quarter and later purchased adjoining acres.


John and his wife, Alma, raised three boys on the northwest quarter.

“We had 10 milk cows and we had room for about 12 sows,” said Melvin, John and Alma’s middle son. “We had a bunch of chickens and we milked the cows by hand.”

In the summer of 1934, lighting struck the new barn they’d just built, burning it to the ground. John happened to be inside the house at the time, taking a lunch break from painting the stanchions.

“The county fair was going on and all of the firemen were down in the hog barn at the fair and nobody heard the page for the fire,” Melvin shared.

It was soon rebuilt and, as the farm expanded, so too did the luxuries. Melvin was about 6 years old when electricity reached the farm.

“When we got electric in the house, it was one light bulb hanging from the ceiling,” he said, noting the family had a two-bedroom house with a tiny, unfinished basement.

During Melvin’s teen years, the family moved briefly to Waverly, Iowa, where Alma had two sisters and a brother.

“We kept ownership of this farm and I guess Dad got homesick for this place,” Melvin said. “Mother said she’d come back if she got a new house, so that was the deal. She got the house that is basically here. I added on the porch on the east side, and David added on everything else (an office, craft room and garage to the house, and a repair shop for his business).”


Growing up on the farm, Melvin and his brothers made memories when the work was done — climbing trees in the grove, and hunting and fishing along the river. In the winter, Melvin said they used to go skiing behind the car.

“It worked good until you hit the driveway,” he said with a grin.

After high school, Melvin entered the service and spent 10 months in Germany from 1955-1956, during the Korean War. During his deployment, he began corresponding with Phydelis, a Rock Rapids, Iowa woman he’d met while dating her neighbor.

“A couple of months before I got out of the Army, she broke up and I broke up,” Melvin recalled. “I said, ‘Save me a date when I get back home.’ She wrote back and said, ‘You can have all the dates you want.’

“We’ve been dating ever since,” he added. “We got married a year and a half after I got out of the service. She was my best pen pal.”

Melvin and Phydelis moved into a trailer house on the Hamann farm after their marriage as Melvin was farming with his dad.

“Dad needed the help when I came back,” Melvin said. “I looked for jobs all over, and there wasn't anything available. I was a mechanic in the Army. I came back in November, and when spring came, I started helping my dad on the farm.”

Back then, the Hamanns still used horses to pull their two-row planter to plant the crops. Corn was picked by hand in the fall.


“Dad kept the horses for probably longer than he needed,” Melvin said. “Dad couldn’t see (getting a) combine, so we had the threshing machine for years.”

Within the first three years of their marriage, Melvin and Phydelis added three kids to the family — a daughter and two sons — making for cramped quarters in the trailer house. It prompted John and Alma to move into Luverne so Melvin and Phydelis could move into the farmhouse. Seven years later, they welcomed their fourth child — another son.

David was the oldest of the three boys, and he and his wife, Lisa, are now the fourth generation owners of the Hamann homestead. After their marriage, they lived about two and a half miles from the family farm, and David worked for the John Deere dealership in Luverne while also farming with his dad. Twenty years ago — after 15 years with John Deere — David opened his own repair shop on the farm, working on tractors, combines, backhoes — a little of everything, he said.

Melvin built a farrowing and nursery barn on the site in 1983 and went into partnership with David to raise hogs. Melvin also added a gestation building and remodeled the chicken house. In 2017, David added a new wean-to-finish barn on the farm and began raising pigs for Schwartz Farms of Sleepy Eye.

Today, David farms with his brother, Dan. They share crop all of their parents’ land, and David also rents some land on his own. He and his wife live on the family farm, and Melvin and Phydelis built a new home nearby about 20 years ago.

David and Lisa have seven children, ranging in age from 17 to 32. They have three boys and four girls, and of them, David said one may be interested in farming.

“It’s hard to get started nowadays,” David said. Of their sons, one works on wind farms, one is a truck driver and one works for Big Top Tent Rental in Luverne. They have two daughters in college at South Dakota State University, one is married and working part-time at Sanford Luverne and the youngest will be a senior at Luverne High School this fall. Lisa works at a dental office in Luverne, and they have two grandsons, with another grandchild on the way.

The Hamanns are proud to have a farm that has been in their family for 100 years, through four generations, and David hopes it will remain in the family for years to come.

“It’s nice to keep it in the family,” he said. “Maybe we'll have some grandsons interested, I don't know.”

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