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Saline County Century Farm: Great Depression foils education dreams, leads to long life on family farm for Kirchhoff ancestor

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ernest and Lydia Kirchhoff (back) purchased a farm near Elmwood in 1912. Their family recalls how many flowers Lydia was able to grow in the yard of the home. The farm was recently named one of Saline County's newest Century Farms. The couple had four children. Their oldest son, Ted, continued the family farm after high school.
(Contributed photo)
Ben Kirchhoff and his mother, Bertha, still fondly remember Ernest and Lydia Kirchhoff. On Feb. 23, 1912, Ernest purchased an 80-acre farm on the edge of Elmwood in western Saline County. Just a few days afterward, the young farmer married Lydia Flair.

"They were married on a Saturday, and they moved into the house on Saturday afternoon," said their grandson, Ben. "Then they had a snowstorm at the same time. They were trapped in for two or three days. My dad Ted, was born a few days over 9 months later."

"They drove her crazy about that, that they had to get married," laughed the couple's daughter-in-law Bertha Kirchhoff, 97.

In November, the land, which Ben now farms, was recognized as a Saline County Century Farm, for being in the same family for more than 100 years.

Being able to earn the designation for his grandparents has been a sense of pride and accomplishment for the Kirchhoff family.

The Kirchhoff family was at the Century Farm Ceremony in November when their farm was recognized for being in the family for 100 years or more. Bertha Kirchhoff, 97, and her late husband, Ted, took care of the land for many years. Today, their son Ben and his wife, Joy, live on a farm just across from the original 80 acres. Ben's children include Sidney and her husband, Greg Lebo, of Norborne, along with their children, Brett and Will; and Kara and Corey Pennington and their son, Gavin, of Columbia.
(Marcia Gorrell/Democrat-News)
"I'm glad that they were able to get through the depression and everything else. I'm sure it was very hard for them," Ben said. "I think they did (struggle through the depression) but Dad said they always had plenty to eat because they butchered."

Today, Ben and his wife, Joy, have a picturesque view of the farm, now mostly cropland, located just across the road from their home.

However, at one time it was fenced off in pastures for the cattle and hogs his grandparents raised, along with corn and hay. Lydia also kept gray and black Dominiker chickens. In one of the pastures, the neighborhood children played a lot of baseball.

A few cattle lots now stand on the corner where the house and barns once stood, but Ben and his mother remember the house was surrounded by a large garden, orchard and lots of flowers.

"She had every flower imaginable in that yard," Bertha remembered. "That corner was alive with flowers."

She also grew a large garden, along with an orchard and blackberry patch.

"She could get more things out of a little patch of dirt," Bertha said.

They also remember Lydia's cooking, including Sunday dinners when she normally baked two or three old hens.

"She was a wonderful cook, I tell you," Bertha said. "She made the best dressing that anybody ever made."

"She'd put her bread and cornbread in milk and let that set overnight," Bertha explained. "The next morning she would squeeze all that milk out of it and go ahead and fix that dressing."

"She said she had to double her recipes when I got in the family," Bertha laughed, adding she tried but never could make it taste like her mother-in-law.

Ernest and Lydia raised three other children on the farm: Pearl, Paul and Alfred.

Ted, however, was the only one who stayed on the farm, expanding it and working with Ben until he was about 78 years old.

It was just a few months before Ted died in 1992, when he told them he had originally planned to go to college and become a coach.

"It was the depression and they didn't have the money," Bertha explained. However, the superintendent of Blackburn High School had taken a liking to Ted, the class valedictorian. He offered to pay his way to college in Warrensburg.

"It was set up, but in a few weeks time (Ted's) dad had a real bad heart attack," Bertha said. "So there wasn't anything else for Ted to do but farm the farm and support the other three kids (who) were in high school."

"He never did say anything about that," she continued. "A month before he died he told me that. He didn't want to talk about it."

Ernest lived until 1960, but struggled with poor health. Lydia lived until she was 93.

Ted had been farming for about five years before he married Bertha (Rolf) in 1940. Although they had planned to get married, it was a rainy June day when he came to take her to the preacher.

"He said, 'We are going to get married today. Its raining, and I can't plow corn,'" she said. After the ceremony they got as far away as Windsor before it quit raining and they returned to the farm.

It wasn't until about 1950 when Ted quit farming with teams. Before that Bertha remembers one of the horses named Myrtle. They would ride her bareback when she wasn't being used in the field.

They also used a mule to work ground, and at times the two were hitched together, Bertha recalled. Ted often told a story of trying to get a stubborn mule to pull a cultivator one Fourth of July. No matter what he did, he couldn't get the mule to move.

"So he got some sacks and built a fire underneath it to force it to move and it moved forward enough just to get the cultivator over the fire," Ben laughed. "So he decided then maybe he wasn't supposed to work on the Fourth of July, and he gave it up for the day."

Ben, an only child, "went every place with his dad," Bertha said.

As a very small boy, he would wait for his father to get done in the field and then ride Myrtle back to their home.

In 1950, Bertha and Ted purchased the farm where Ben and Joy live. Soon after that, they stopped using teams and purchased a used tractor. In 1952, Ben was just 8 years old when his father purchased a brand-new Ford tractor.

"The first day I drove it up to where Grandma and Grandpa lived up here on the corner to show it to them," he said. On the way back he was looking down at the speedometer to see how fast he was traveling.

"I looked up in time to see I was about to run off the bridge. The front end of the tractor caught on the bridge abutment and the back wheels were spinning free, about ready to tip over in there," he said.

When his uncle's wrecker lifted the tractor off the abutment, the concrete fell into the ditch. However, the tractor made it through unscathed.

Ben continued to drive tractors on their farm, helping his father through the years. After high school, he went to college at Central Missouri State University (now University of Central Missouri) in Warrensburg.

He paid his way through college by loading square bales onto hay wagons, making 1.5 cents per bale. By the time he got through college the going rate was 3 cents a bale.

"But I could always make enough in the summer, baling hay, to pay the room and board and tuition in college," Ben said, noting college wasn't near the expense it is today.

He attended fall and winter terms, so he could spend the spring and summer helping his father, and it took him about six years to earn a business degree.

Although his mother said she didn't want him to be a farmer, Ben said it was "in his blood."

Today he plans to keep farming for as long as he is able and hopes to pass the farm down to his family.

Ben has two married daughters, Sidney Lebo and Kara Pennington, along with two grandsons and a granddaughter. Joy has a son who lives in Jackson, Miss., and a daughter living in Nashville, Tenn.

Contact Marcia Gorrell at mgorrell@marshallnews.com

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