Sweet treats, shared stories: Dairy community salutes veterans

Colleen Kottke

KING - Over dishes of ice cream, local farmers and military veterans at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King swapped stories of life on the farm.

FFA members and leaders served up nearly 300 ice cream sundaes at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King on June 24.

Residents living at the state Veterans Home recalled bottling milk right on the dairy farm while others told of returning from WWII, marrying their sweetheart and settling down on a small farm, with a modest herd of 20 cows, a few hogs and chickens and 40 acres.

In turn, dairy producers from across Waupaca County regaled the old-timers with stories on how technology has turned farming into a cutting edge enterprise.

"Many of them including myself started farming milking in buckets and carrying out our milk," said dairy farmer Jeff Trapp. "The bridge of technology in our lifetime can be compared to the Amish plowing with horses and yet the farm next door has robots milking their cows."

Trapp was a member of the Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative (DBMMC) that spearheaded the event.

"Jeff had wanted to find a way to do something to showcase our vets during June Dairy Month. So we started calling around to local FFA chapters, the Waupaca Dairy Promotions people and folks at the Wisconsin Veterans Home to plan this event," said Scott Munes of DBMMC. "Most veterans in some shape or form are connected to agriculture somewhere in the past and might have questions they'd like to ask today's farmers about farming. And involving our FFA members from the Waupaca and Amherst FFA Chapters helps to showcase our future people in the ag industry."

Adding the cherry on top of nearly 300 ice cream sundaes at the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King.

Using locally produced ice cream donated by Trapp and the Feltz Family Dairy, farmers and FFA members served over 300 residents living in Ainsworth Hall on June 24, including Shirley (nee Walter) Cross who spent summers on her grandparents farm in Winnebago County.

Sharing stories

In order to eek out a living during the Great Depression, Cross's grandparents ran a large dairy and produce farm in Winnebago County. All that remains of the Walters Farm is a brick farmhouse on County Highway A.

At the age of 5, Cross joined her grandmother and the other farm help during the summer, picking strawberries, beans, peas or whatever happened to be in season.

"There were acres of fruit and vegetables including apple orchards that she would sell at the roadside stand," Cross recalled.

Before the noon meal, Cross would head up to the farmhouse to help lay out the noon meal that her grandmother had been preparing before sunup.

Staff and area farmers converse with military veterans and their family members during an ice cream social at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King on June 24.

"When the threshing crew came she had to cook even more," she said.

Cross also remembers helping her grandfather bottle the milk produced by the family's herd of Holstein and Guernsey cows. 

"We filled glass quart and pint bottles and then my uncle would go out and deliver them on his milk route," she said. "I remember that grandpa had a machine that would press the cardboard caps on."

A simpler life

After raising three children on the family farm in Portage County, Garth and Connie Morgan were faced with an all too familiar dilemma.

"We could see the way things were going and we either had to get real big or get out," Connie Morgan said. "But at our age, did we really want to go deep into debt?"

The couple met just months after Garth had returned home from the Philippines at the end of WWII.  Friends set the couple up at a local dance and by the year's end they were married and working for a local farmer.

Navy WWII veteran Garth Morgan and his wife Connie share stories of their farm life in rural Wisconsin.

"We had both grown up on farms ; the farm I lived on was near Scandinavia and Garth farmed near Amherst," Morgan said. "We were able to make a living but we didn't get rich."

After renting the farm on shares, the Morgan's bought their own farm in 1955 milking 20 cows, raising pigs and chickens and working a large garden to feed the family.

"We didn't have any money for hired help so I was it," Connie said with a laugh.

"I taught her to drive the Allis Chalmers and she did a good job," Garth Morgan added.

After leaving the farm, the couple moved near King where Connie took a job as a practical nurse at the Veterans Home while Garth was part of the grounds-keeping crew and was also in charge of the institution's two greenhouses.

"If our fathers were still alive they would not believe all the technology involved in today's farming," Connie Morgan said. "We enjoyed farming when it was simpler. It was a good family life and we enjoyed being our own boss."

King area farmer Larry Eisentraut credited the less than ideal weather for allowing him to spend the afternoon conversing with residents including Betty Martin who spent a week every summer on her grandparents' farm.

King area farmer Larry Eisentraut swaps memories of farm life with Wisconsin Veterans Home resident Betty Martin during an ice cream social on June 24.

"We used the horses to go and round up the cows," Martin said. "We felt like the Rough Riders!"

"Did you know that (Martin's) grandmother survived the Peshtigo fire?" Eisentraut exclaimed. "It just goes to show that everyone has a story to tell."