Nature preserve will honor Quinney family farm

Anna Marie Lux
The Janesville Gazette
Sometime this summer, Richard Quinney will make sure a sign goes up off Quinney Road, noting the spot in Walworth County where his great-grandparents settled in 1868.

DELAVAN, Wis. (AP) – Richard Quinney is determined not to let the story of his family farm disappear.

Sometime this summer, he will make sure a sign goes up off Quinney Road, noting the spot in Walworth County where his great-grandparents settled in 1868.

Three years ago, Richard sold most of the 160-acre family farm in the town of Sugar Creek to a neighbor.

But he could not imagine losing all the fields, woods and pond he explored as a child. He needed a firm connection to the farm that has nourished and grounded him for all of his 86 years.

So Richard secured a 5-acre portion, which includes land homesteaded by John and Bridget Quinney, who fled Ireland during the potato famine.

"It was necessary for me spiritually," Richard explained to The Janesville Gazette, "to keep a part of the farm — that I have always called The Old Place — close to me in my daily life."

Today, Richard of Madison is creating a nature preserve on the private site.

In addition to placing a historical marker, he will construct paths, remove invasive species and landscape around three large stones moved there to provide seating for people seeking solitude.

Someday he hopes to share the preserve with the public and make it a place where children can explore and learn. But now, the preserve is a way of keeping his family's story alive.

Witness to the end

If you talk to Richard, he will tell you that growing up on the farm with loving parents and a brother has been "the primal center of my life." Even when he lived far from it.

But Richard was never destined to be a farmer. Nor was his brother, Ralph.

Early in life, Richard knew he wanted to see the world beyond the country life he experienced as a child of the late 1930s and 1940s.

Once, during a weekend home from college, Richard's car got stuck in the driveway during a snowstorm. When his father, Floyd, maneuvered the tractor in place to pull him out, Richard shouted into the crisp winter air: "I'm leaving this God-forsaken place, and I'm never coming back."

Richard spent his career as a sociologist and taught at universities in the East.

In 1983, he accepted a professorship at Northern Illinois University and moved back to the Midwest to be near the farm and his mother, Alice. He retired as professor emeritus in 1998.

His father died in 1969. When his mother died in 1999, he and Ralph inherited the farm.

For a time, he and Ralph improved the land through organic farming. They tried to keep it as a working farm, even though both had long since moved away.

But after Ralph died, Richard was the last one remaining of the four generations to live on the farm. He was forced to ask the question: "What is a family farm if there is no family on the land to farm it?"

Richard decided to sell the family home and most of the farmland in 2017.

A prolific author, he wrote eight books about the farm over the years to share his moving memories. Among them are "Journey to a Far Place," "For the Time Being," "Where Yet the Sweet Birds Sing," "Of Time and Place" and "A Lifetime Burning."

"I became the one who would be like the ancient mariner, the teller of tales to anyone who would listen," Richard wrote in "Of Time and Place."

After years of publishing with commercial publishers, he founded Borderland Books in 2005 as an independent publisher of quality books.

A place of refuge

Today, Richard travels weekly with his wife, Solveig, to The Old Place.

On a recent weekend, he listened and watched intently from a well-positioned bench as migrating palm warblers flooded the pond and grove of trees at the bottom of the hill where his great-grandparents settled.

As summer comes, white wild indigo, prairie dock and sky blue aster will hug the landscape.

Richard hopes family descendants will know this place as their source of beginning in the new world.

He also hopes the few remaining acres will offer refuge and happiness for those who seek reflection and renewal, including himself.

"Loss of the family farm after generations of the family on the farm brings heartache and sorrow," Richard said. "But loss is the price for holding dearly to that which you love."