Wautoma, WI
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Sunday...Temperatures will range from a high of 79 to a low of 59 degrees with partly cloudy skies. Winds will range between 5 and 7 miles per hour from the southsouthwest. No precipitation is expected.
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Reuben Ott’s great-great granddaughter Claire Hardrath (age 4) began to slip away after spending time with him during the celebration of his 105th birthday.

Reuben Ott’s great-great granddaughter Claire Hardrath (age 4) began to slip away after spending time with him during the celebration of his 105th birthday. Photo By Ray Mueller

Retired dairy farmer celebrates 105th birthday

March 7, 2013 | 0 comments


At age 105, retired Calumet County dairy farmer Reuben Ott is not the oldest living person in Wisconsin. But he might be the oldest living former farmer in the state or possibly the county’s oldest resident.

Whether he is or not, Ott has made a tradition of celebrating his birthday in recent years, including having a huge event open to the public for both his 100th birthday and then his 105th this year.

This year’s celebration drew a crowd of nearly 300 relatives, friends, neighbors, and other acquaintances to the village Community Center here on Sunday, March 3 (two days after the actual birthdate anniversary). By 10 minutes before the announced opening time of the event, the hall was already nearly filled with well-wishers.

On display for the celebration were the baseball caps made for each of Ott’s birthdays since age 100, a scrapbook detailing the family history, and clippings of newspaper stories from various times during his farming career.

After attending the Longfellow school just south of Forest Junction for five years, Ott’s formal education was over as he began to work on the home farm. He quips that instead of pursuing a Ph.D. he was engaged in Ph.Do instead.

At age 19, Ott bought his first farm in 1927. He later operated a milk can hauling business from 1932 to 1964 and was a well-known breeder of Holstein cattle that had a history of success in the show ring. He also served on the Calumet County board of supervisors.

Ott was born on March 1, 1908 as one of 11 boys and one girl to a northern Calumet County farm family. Today he lives alone in a house built 27 years ago on the Ru-Ott farm that he and some of his sons operated along Harvestore Road southwest of Forest Junction.

From 1930 to 1949, Ott and his wife Verona (Fokett), who died in 1980, had 11 children - one of whom died in infancy. Today, the extended Ott family consists of 47 grandchildren, 82 great-grandchildren, and 21 great-great grandchildren - many of whom attended the 105th birthday celebration.

Ott still drives but has relied on others to take him to his favorite area restaurant and elsewhere while the area landscape and roadways have been snow and ice-covered during the winter. He starts the day with an exercise routine and enjoys visiting with people and dispensing free advice.

Asked during the March 3 celebration if he had a midlife crisis, Ott suggested that "it’s coming." Later during the event, he invited all attendees to come back in two years to celebrate his 107th birthday.

In the meantime, Ott intends to share a lifetime of memories with Jules Clausing, a contributor to the weekly Brillion News who is expecting to have enough material to write a series of articles titled "Reminisce with Reuben."

Ott estimates that he’ll be able to talk for at least three days in sharing those memories.

Many of those shared memories are likely to be centered on Ott’s farming days. He was an innovator of farming practices that are common today, as indicated by his hosting of a haylage field day in October of 1962 - a time when "haylage" wasn’t a familiar word in agriculture.

As he approached age 85, Ott was the subject of a feature article in the Wisconsin State Farmer in the fall of 1992. The impetus of that article was his delight in continuing to drive a Hesston mower-conditioner to cut alfalfa on the farm.

Starting in 1990, Ott set aside up to five acres next to his home on the farm for members of Hmong families from the nearby Fox Cities area to plant gardens.

Both on the farm and away from it, one of Ott’s favorite activities was singing - barbershop style. He says he practiced with his parents and a brother in the barn on the farm from the time he was four and continued to sing in various groups for about 95 years afterward.

One of his favorite memories was singing with a group in the state capitol on a Sunday morning to an appreciative crowd that prompted two more performances of the song.

During the birthday celebration here, Ott was serenaded by members of the Fox Valleyaires. He was a member of that group for more than 50 years.

Another of Ott’s favorite activities was watching his descendants compete in high school sports, mainly at Hilbert and Brillion high schools. There were times when some of his descendants were matched against one another on the court or field.

At the birthday celebration here, the crowd was treated to a catered multi-course cafeteria-style dinner.

For dessert, there were three large cakes (chocolate, lemon, and strawberry) prepared by Linda Lambel of McHenry, IL. The niece of a family friend of the Otts and a former commercial creator of cakes, she has been making birthday cakes for Reuben ever since he reached 90.

Ott, who says he’s eating and sleeping well and feeling good overall, attributes part of his longevity to never smoking or drinking alcohol and, in a remark broadcast on a Green Bay television station, to not having "kissed any wild women."

The occasion drew the attention of at least two Green Bay television stations and weekly newspapers published in Calumet County.


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