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Published September 17, 2009, 11:37 AM

Ocheyedan’s Steen family marks 100 years on a quarter section

Third generation now calls the land homeOCHEYEDAN, Iowa — For the Steen family, living on a farm adjacent to a major highway has both its advantages and disadvantages.

By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe

OCHEYEDAN, Iowa — For the Steen family, living on a farm adjacent to a major highway has both its advantages and disadvantages.

They don’t have to contend with a gravel road, and U.S. 59 is plowed early and frequently in the wintertime. But there is some traffic whizzing by — especially when other roads are closed due to construction — and the Steens have played host to the occasional stranded traveler (and one time even a stranded horse) when the plows aren’t able to keep the road passable.

The 160-acre Steen century farm — located about four miles south of the Minnesota/Iowa state line on U.S. 59 — is now home to Norman and Linda Steen, the third generation of the family. It was purchased by Norman’s grandparents, George and Jennie Steen, in 1909, from U.E. and Carrie Dawson. They don’t know if the Dawsons were the original homesteaders.

“Dad was born in Germany. He came here when he was about 19,” explained Bert Steen, 86, the second-generation owner of the land. “He left because back then they had to go into the Army. He worked in Chicago for a few years,” as an undertaker. “Then he worked in a lumberyard in Wellsburg, Iowa — that’s where he met my mother — then they came out here and bought the farm.”

Bert was the second youngest of 11 children — 10 who survived, seven girls and three boys — born to George and Jennie.

“He was born right here in this house,” noted Bert’s wife, Edna.

Life on the farm with a big family to feed wasn’t easy, and it certainly didn’t get any easier when George died quite suddenly.

“Dad died in 1930, right in the middle of the Depression,” Bert explained, later clarifying that his death was due to heart problems. “Mom went through a lot. But we had a lot of good neighbors. That was back when neighbors were neighbors.”

“And there were more of them, too,” added daughter-in-law Linda.

One of Bert’s older brothers ran the farm until Bert turned 15 years old. The brother got married and moved away.

“Then it was up to me,” Bert said. “There was nothing else to do. I didn’t know anything else.”

Back in those days, a farm was largely self-sufficient, and the Steens grew corn, oats and hay, milked cows and kept a variety of other livestock to meet their needs. When Bert took over, much of the labor was still being done with horses.

“I started out when I was around 12 years old, cultivating corn with horses,” he recalled. “And my brother always had some horses around that had to be broke.”

Bert and Edna met at a dance in Ocheyedan. A traveling troupe would come around about once a month, put on a three-act play and then there was a dance afterward.

“You know how farmers get wives, don’t ya?” asked Edna with a grin. “They go to town and get city girls — dumb city girls.”

Bert took his time courting citygirl Edna, giving her time to get used to the idea of becoming a farmer’s wife.

“We didn’t rush things,” he said. “She had plenty of time to change her mind.”

“I’d had a taste of it,” by the time they married, Edna added. “But I thought things had to get better. It took a while.”

For the first 20 years of their marriage, Bert and Edna lived in a smaller house behind the main house while mom Jennie continued to inhabit the central abode, which was constructed in about 1918. The smaller house was added on to accommodate the arrival of Bert and Edna’s children, Cynthia and Norman.

Cynthia left home to go to school and never returned to the farm. She and husband John Giles now live in Lompoc, Calif. But Norman — like his father before him — was drawn into the world of farming, although he has worked a couple of other jobs in town.

“His dad couldn’t take a step but he was in it behind him,” Edna recalled. “Now it’s the opposite — he takes a step and his dad is behind him.”

Norman continues to farm a rotation of corn and soybeans and also raises a few steers. Bert and Edna moved off the farm and into Ocheyedan in 1993, leaving their son alone on the farm.

“He was out there batchin’ it,” explained Edna. “I told him I had taken care of him for 40 years and I was done.”

A few years later, Linda entered the picture, and they were married in 1998.

“He went to town and found a city girl, too,” Linda quipped. “But I had grown up on a dairy farm, so the first thing I asked him was if he milked cows. He said no, and it was a go from there.”

The Steens traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to receive their Century Farm plaque this summer. They’re proud to still be farming land that has been in the family for 100 years.

“It’s just a heck of a lot of hard work,” noted Bert. “There’ve been a lot of good times, a lot of bad times, but a lot of good memories. The best day was the day I bought it, the day it became mine.”