Centenarian Ella Faye Johnson shares stories of life on her century farm

Gloria Hafemeister
Ella Faye Johnson, center, the 101 year old owner of her family’s farm at Westfield in Marquette County, was joined by her daughters, Mary Ellen Johnson, left, and Barb Borders, right,  in accepting the Century Farm award on behalf of her family.

WEST ALLIS – It was an exciting day for Ella Faye Johnson of Westfield who picked up her family’s Century Farm award along with 83 other century farm families at the Wisconsin State Fair last week. 

There were also 41 farm families on hand to collect their awards for having their farms in the family for more than 150 years.

At age 101, Johnson shared many vivid memories of learning how to farm Wisconsin-style after growing up in Texas. 

Johnson met her husband, a Marine, while he was stationed in Texas during World War II. “I have a four year degree in teaching and was in my first year teaching Spanish students. I turned down a blind date with him five times before we finally went out,” she said.

MORE: Neighbors, relatives among Wisconsin Century Farm honorees

They were married in 1942 and returned to her new husband's family farm at Oxford, Wis. “We built a greenhouse on our farm using old recycled windmill towers,” she recalled.

Her husband has since passed away and she now rents the greenhouse business to another family who was also on hand with her to accept her family’s State Fair honor.

Shared memories

Johnson says she still used her degree in education when she arrived in Wisconsin, saying she spent 20 years teaching men how to cook at the prison in Oxford. In addition to her work outside the home, the centenarian says she helped out on the family farm.

She admits she knew nothing about Wisconsin farming practices when she came to the Badger state as a new bride. The couple lived with her in-laws for a time and she shared a story about learning Wisconsin farming ways.

“One afternoon my mother-in-law asked me to take a fork out to the field to dig some potatoes for supper. I took a fork from the kitchen drawer and started scratching around in the dirt, not sure what I was really looking for," she said. "I never saw a potato fork in Texas and had no idea what it was.”

Ella Faye Johnson, left, shares stories of her years on the farm in Westfield, Wis., with Alice in Dairyland Taylor Schaefer. The 101 y year old was on hand to receive a plaque during the Century Farm program at Wisconsin State Fair.

The family is very proud of their background in Wisconsin. Johnson's daughters Mary Ellen Johnson and Barb Borders pointed out that their grandfather served as a rural letter carrier for 50 years, delivering mail in the rural areas using a horse and buggy and a sleigh in the wintertime. The sleigh is prominently displayed in the Marquette County Historical Society museum located in Westfield.

Other families attending the Century and Sesquicentennial breakfast were equally proud of their family’s agricultural involvement. Ron Olson and his family are among the few dairy farmers still actively farming in Door County for more than 150 years.

They currently milk 60 cows with one Lely robot. Olson says they had grown their herd to 100 cows but had no room to expand so they downsized in order to stay active in farming.

The Olson family came to Wisconsin from Norway where they also farmed. When their son did an internship in Norway a few years ago the family visited him and had the opportunity to track down the family’s original farm and stopped in for a visit.

Popular event

The Century and Sesquicentennial Farm breakfast at State Fair is always a popular event and many families are excited to pick up their farm signs and share their stories.

The event is sponsored by Hillshire Farms, long-time meat processors originating in New London and Compeer Financial.

Visitors were greeted by Alice in Dairyland Taylor Schaefer, Fairest of the Fair Jackie Rosenbush, Wisconsin State Fair Park Board Chairman John Yingling, and State Fair Park Director/CEO Shari Black.

They were also congratulated by Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Secretary Randy Romanski and Midwest Farm Report Radio Farm Director Pam Jahnke.

Families cheered as their names were read off by Jayme Buttke of the Wisconsin Fairs Association and Sue Crane, Wisconsin State Fair Park board member.

Sesquicentennial Farms

Brown County: James E II Burns, Brillion; Kim and Carl Vanden Avond, Green Bay

Calumet: Kelly and Christopher Collin, New Holstein; Kathy and Gary Roehrig, New Holstein. Columbia: Mary and Thomas Heinze, Portage Dane: Brunkeburg Kviteseid Farms, LLC, Mount Horeb; Clayton F and Clayton R Swerig, Stoughton.

Dodge: Dawn and James Christ, Rubicon; Melissa Mace and John Kraus Jr., Beaver Dam. Door: Olson Family Trust, Sturgeon Bay; Dolores m Smith Family Trust, Sister Bay.

Fond du Lac: Brooke and John Kraus, K & K  Homestead LLC, Malone; Mike and Tom Welsch, Mitchell Meadows, Eden. Grant: Rodney S and Thomas V Brogley, Platteville; Jay and Steve Esser, Cassville. Green: Burgy Century Farm, Monticello. Jefferson: Kevin Bergdoll, Watertown. Kewaunee: Barb Schmook and David Kuehl, Kewaunee.

LaCrosse: Virginia and Todd Green, Mindoro; Pfaffsview Farms LLC, Mindoro; Judy and Randy Schmidt Family, Bangor. Marinette: Felch Family Farm, Porterfield; Finger Family Farm LLC, Oconto. Marquette: Alissa and Thomas Cotter, Montello.

Ozaukee: Ervin Klug, Mequon. Pierce: G Russell and Sally Grape, Spring Valley.

Rock: Wesley D and Jill Milner, Clinton. Sauk: Lauren and Karren Raschein, Prairie du Sac. Shawano: Tajia and Nathan Retzlaff, Shawno. Sheboygan: Debra and Kevin Kirsch, Devin Acres, Elkhart Lake; Ralph A Scholten, Oostburg. St. Croix: Lorraine E Germain, Somerset. Trempeleau: Travis I Thompson, Ettrick. Vernon: Duane Hanson, Viroqua; Loren J Haugh, Hillsboro; Mary and Richard Humfeld, Chaseburg. Washington: Kraemer Homestead, Richfield. Waukesha: Donna and Lee Hopkins, Oconomowoc. Waupaca: David R Rohan, New London; Connie and Dave Viergutz, Triple D Dairy LLC, Clintonville. Winnebago: George A. Tipler, Clayton.

Century Farms

Adams County: Susan and John Crass, Oxford. Bayvield: Carol J and John H Mesik, Ashland. Brown: Scott Zittlow, DePere. Buffalo: Karen Dieckman and Brett DeWitt, Alma; Jennifer and Andrew Rotering, Arcadia. Clark: Virginia and Patrick Frinack, Thorp; Laurie and Clifford Johnson, Spencer. Columbia: Nancy and Tom Bannan, Lodi; Joseph D Kovalaske, Cambria; Anita and Donald Nelson, Wisconsin Dells.

Dane: Brunkeburg Kittleseld Farms, LLC, Mount Horeb; Carol and Patrick Buechner, Cross Plains; Jeremiah M Duerst, Belleville; Lisa and Steven Schleicher, Columbus; Nathan Kirch, Sperle Family Trust, McFarland; Knudt H Roe and Ole P Swerig, Stoughton.

Dodge: Melissa Mace and John Kraus Jr., Beaver Dam. Door:  Evelyn Ploor Life Estate, Sturgeon Bay; Shirley and Edmund VanderMissen Jr., Luxemburg. Dunn: Jeannie R and John C. Krig, Boyceville. Fond du Lac: Karen and Stanley Stahmann, Van Dyne; Carol and George Stanchfield, Fond du lac. Grant: Jay and Steve Esser, Cassville; Jean and Joseph Kirschbaum, Bloomington; Tana and Ronald Olson, Fennimore. Green: Barbara Ausmus Lowe and Jeanne Ausmus, Monroe; Marjorie and Marvin Eith, Brooklyn.

Green Lake: Carol, Paul, Amy and Brian Wuerch, Markesan. Iowa: Margaret and Michael James, Dodgeville; Jackson: Barbara and David Duerkop, Fairchild.

Juneau: Vivian and Leo Morauek, New Lisbon; Penny L and Joseph W Vinopal, Mauston. Manitowoc: Kolb Farms, Cleveland; William G. Matznick, Chilton. Marathon: Schill Gust Acres, Edgar; Judith and Ronald Yessa, Edgar. Marinette: Eunice and Mark Kamps, Coleman; Marquette: Ella Faye Johnson Revocable Living Trust, Westfield; Ginny and James Joyce, Endeavor.

Monroe: Bradley and Jon Brey, Norwalk; Carlene and Thomas Zaremba, Camp Douglas. Oconto: Myra Fosick Nehs Wyant, Mountain; Michael S Rowell, Abrams; Marla J and Troy R Wagner, Lena. Outagamie: Plamann Farm, Appleton. Ozaukee: Ervin Klug, Mequon; Pamela and lee Schlenvogt, Port Washington. Polk: Maurice O Christenson, Cushing; Marvin J Church, Clear Lake; C Virginia Nelson, Melva Jean Plath and Sharon Silbaugh, Luck; Sharon and Dennis Potting, Osceola.

Racine: Bergles Farm Franksville. Richland: Lauren Moe, Cazenovia. Rock: Staci S Pope Hansen, Janesville. Rusk: Sylvia Kendzior and Family, Rice Lake Sauk: Arthur Jr. Behnke, Reedsburg; Daniel J Howley, Wisconsin Dells; Janice and Paul Plachetka, Reedsburg; Lauren and Karren Raschein, Prairie du Sac; Tina and Craig Raschein, Prairie du Sac. Shawano: Tajia and Nathan Retzlaff, Shawano Sheboygan: Kaye Jaeger, Sandra Witte, Carol and Wayne Wedepohl, Sheboygan Falls.

St. Croix: Lorraine E Germain, Somerset; Howard B Johnston, New Richmond; Ralph Mondor, New Richmond; Jamie Smith, Spring Valley. Taylor: Regina Syryczuk, Lublin; Beth Kuenne and Family, Withee. Trempealeau: Susan and Raymond Hovell, Galesville; Hilton Century Farms, Galesville. Vernon: Loren and Darron Haugh, Hillsboro; Mary and Richard Humfeld, Chaseburg; Jonathan M Johnson, Hillsboro; Leigh and Lucus Rueckheim, LaFarge.

Washington: Kraemer Homestead, Richfield; Luella and Harley Pufahl, West Bend.

Waukesha: Audrey M and Edward A Schultz, Pewaukee. Waupaca: Kristy and Greg Hanson, Clintonville; Debra Kendhammer and Mary Orton, Clintonville; Sherry and Dean Peterson, Clintonville; William J Pope, Waupaca; Arlyn Splitt, Clintonville; Splitt Family Farm, Clintonville. Winnebago: Clair A Retzlaff, Omro.