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Published September 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

Rural Rock Rapids farm had long history in dairying

ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa — Tido Reemtsma left his parents, his siblings and his homeland of Groothuizen, Germany, behind in 1883 to embark on an adventure and a promise of land across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States.

By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe

ROCK RAPIDS, Iowa — Tido Reemtsma left his parents, his siblings and his homeland of Groothuizen, Germany, behind in 1883 to embark on an adventure and a promise of land across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States.

It isn’t known what led him to southwest Minnesota, but a trace of the family’s genealogy shows that the woman who would become his bride moved to America from Germany just one year later. Tido Reemtsma and Henrietta Walrich were married in 1896 in Reading, and then crossed over the state line into Iowa to settle in the early 1900s.

The move put them closer to Henrietta’s sister, who had married and settled in Lyon County, Iowa.

From 1904 to 1909, the Reemtsmas rented a 120-acre parcel in Section 34, Midland Township, Lyon County. They then purchased a farm, which is situated between Rock Rapids, Iowa, and Ellsworth, in 1909.

“They found good land — the land was really fine here,” said Sharilyn Reemtsma, whose husband Paul is the grandson of Tido and Henrietta. They are also the present owners of the Reemtsma family farm, which is celebrating 100 years of continuous family ownership this year.

There was a small house on the property when Tido and Henrietta settled on the Lyon County farm, but photographs show that it was

added onto in a couple of

different directions over the years.

“There was a tiny bedroom, a living room and a kitchen,” said Paul of the original house.

Tido and Henrietta raised two sons on the farm, Walrich and Ailt (they were called Wallie and Archie, respectively). Their farm life included growing corn and oats, milking cows and raising hogs and chickens.

Wallie had stayed on the farm to help his parents with the farming operation, while Archie struck out on his own on a farm northeast of George, Iowa.

“(Wallie) lived with the folks, took care of them and didn’t get married until after they were gone,” said Sharilyn.

Henrietta died in 1936 and Tido followed just two years later, leaving Wallie — at age 37 — to take over the family farm. Two years later, Wallie married Grace Schmidt. They had been introduced to each other by Archie’s wife, Gretchen.

“(Wallie and Grace) wrote letters first. She lived in southern Iowa,” Sharilyn said.

After the two settled on the Reemtsma farm, they continued on in the operation started by Wallie’s parents. They continued to milk cows, raise pigs and chickens and even had some ducks. Their crops included corn, oats and hay.

In the mid-1940s, Wallie purchased the family’s first tractor — an Allis Chalmers WC. But it was the new Massey Harris 30 — purchased in 1949 — that the couple’s sons, Walter and Paul, learned to drive.

Despite the new tractors, Paul remembers the times his dad still used horses to do some of the field work.

Growing up on the farm, Walter and Paul had their share of chores to do, from helping in the fields to feeding the calves and the chickens and milking the family’s Shorthorn and Guernsey cows.

“In the winter time, we always had to bring in cobs for the stove,” recalled Paul. “We had to make sure the cob box was full.”

The home was modernized in 1955 with the addition of a bathroom, dining room, two bedrooms and a new living room.

While there was always plenty of work to be done on the farm, there was time for a little fun now and then.

“One of the good times was when I was 8 or 9 years old and my uncle built us a go-cart,” said Paul. “That was something we played with for many years.”

He also fondly remembers the gathering of cousins on the farmyard for ball games during the summer months.

Moving on, coming back

At the age of 18, Paul struck out on a three-year stint in the military, leaving his northwest Iowa roots behind for stints in California and Hawaii as a member of the U.S. Marines. In Hawaii, he served as the chauffeur for the Commander in Chief of the Pacific fleet — a four-star general.

When Paul left the farm, Wallie and Grace retired and rented out the land, though they remained living on the homestead.

In 1972, when Paul returned from his tour of duty, the home and the farm were waiting for him. He moved back in with his parents for two years until Wallie and Grace had a small house moved onto the property in 1974.

Paul purchased the acreage in 1979 and built a new barn and silo on the farm that same year. The milking herd was increased — by now they had switched to Holsteins — and the farm was considered a Grade A dairy.

At the height of his dairying, Paul was milking a herd of about 45 cows. The family chose in 1994 to get out of the business because of the low milk prices at that time.

“That was a hard thing to do,” recalled Sharilyn. “His grandfather always milked and his dad always milked.”

“It was a business decision,” added Paul. “It was either expand or get out.”

Though the cows were sold, there were still chores to be done. The family had a farrow-to-finish hog operation and also raised baby calves for a while.

At this time, there isn’t any livestock on the Reemtsma farm.

“I’d like to get some again if the price becomes profitable,” said Paul.

He still farms the land today, growing crops on the land he and his brother inherited from their folks. He also rents additional land in the area to make a living.

The next generations

Paul and Sharilyn married in 1977, having grown up together in the same church family. She was raised on a farm near George.

The couple resided in the old house on the farm until 1998, when they completed a renovation of the home Paul’s parents had lived in until their death. With the move, the old house was torn down.

Paul and Sharilyn raised three sons on the family farm — Mike, who lives in Delano with his wife Joni and their 22-month-old daughter Ava Grace; Scott, who works for an elevator in Sheldon; and Aaron, who is in his third year at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon. The Reemtsmas completed a sibling adoption for Scott and Aaron when they were 4 and 3, respectively.

Of the three boys, Paul said Scott is the one that has shown the most interest in coming back to the farm and taking over some day.

If that happens, he will be the fourth generation to call the Reemtsma farm home and carry the tradition well beyond a century.

The family is proud that the land has been in continuous family ownership for 100 years.

“It’s quite an accomplishment for everything my grandparents went through,” said Paul.

“They made it through the ’30s and we made it through the ’80s, amazingly enough,” added Sharilyn. “People don’t understand what it takes to keep a farm going. It’s a big gamble.”

“I thought it was a good life,” said Paul. “We weren’t rich, but we always had plenty.”

Both Paul and Sharilyn have offfarm jobs to supplement the farm income. Paul works for Doeden Farms near Sibley, while Sharilyn started a new teaching job in Luverne Public Schools earlier this month. She teaches middle school English.