As it was and is

John Oncken

Do you know where your grandparents grew up?  What they did and how they did it? How your parents lived when they were young and growing up? Their life before you knew them?

Probably not, but Ruth Basse Klussendorf talked with people, researched records and kept notes for many years; and at age 92, with the help of her daughter, Ruth published a 305-page book of her memories telling the story of how life was “during the day” — a story that even her family may not have known but now have and can pass on to generations not yet born who will learn of life as it was, back then.

Ruth Klussendorf at age 92 signed books and greeted the crowd at  Basse Country Delight farm market.

Ruth said she kept notes (in longhand) on scrap pieces of paper for many years while teaching elementary school in Mooseheart, Illinois, and later, with no real thought of producing a book.  Her daughter, Barbara Jean Hirsch, had put some of the notes on a computer while working as a software engineer at Motorola in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Ruth Basse Klussendorf (right) made the notes in  longhand while her daughter, Barbara Hirsh, put them into a computer. The result was a book and a recent book signing.

“After my retirement, I was bored,” Hirsch said, “so I put the rest of the notes on the computer." The result is the book, “Life and Times of William and Rose Basse.”

Basse and Guernseys

If the name Basse sounds familiar, it may be because of the many years William and his son, Alvin, were prominent Guernsey breeders (1908-1992), involved in Golden Guernsey Dairy Cooperative (both served as president) and participated in National Guernsey Cattle Club activities.

Or you may know Alvin and Carolyn Basse’s children: Dan, president of AgResource Company, a domestic and international agricultural research firm in Chicago; Gloria, recently retired as vice president and head of U.S. Pork business at Zoetis (formally Pfizer Animal Health); Linda Basse Wenck, principal and director of Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility at Morgan & Myers, a strategic communications firm in Waukesha; and Roger, who, with his wife Becky, owns Basse’s Taste of Country store in Colgate.

The cream-colored barn at Basse’s Guernsey Grove dairy housed a 70-cow herd until 1992.

The beginning

William Henry Basse and Rose Frieda Meyer, the author's parents, were married in 1918. He was a UW-Madison Farm Short graduate (although he never attended high school) and was farming with his brother, Alvin, until a year later: She attended Milwaukee Normal School for a year or two and began teaching at age 18. Her teaching career ended upon marriage, as in those days, married women were not allowed to teach.

Delbert Klussendorf worked on the Basse Farm as a youth, attended UW-Madison and, after their graduation, married Ruth, the farmer’s daughter.

In 1919, the brothers went their separate ways. William and Rose raised Guernsey cattle and changed the farm name from Willalvin Farm to Guernsey Grove, the name that remains today.

Ruth Marie Basse was born in 1924, Robert in 1927 and Alv in in 1933, and all grew up raising Guernsey cattle. “Dad (William) was devoted to dairy cattle,” Ruth wrote. “In 1951, he was declared the winner of the adult division of the annual Hoards Dairyman judging contest" (still a major honor today).

One of the congratulatory letters came from P.J. “Phil” Higley, director of American Scientific Breeding Institute in Madison, who later became the first president of American Breeders Service.

Always involved

William and Rose Basse were active on the local, state and national levels, including with the Milwaukee County Agricultural Society, Farm Bureau, 4-H,  Wisconsin Fruit Growers, DHIA and more, and in 1932 William was named a Wisconsin Master Farmer and in 1955 received the UW-College of Agriculture Honorary Recognition award.

In 1930, William was one of the founders of Golden Guernsey Dairy Cooperative and served on the board of directors for 30-plus years. He once wrote in a co-op brochure: “We did this (formed the co-op) because we  believe that a man should get paid  for doing a better job and producing products that are better than average ... as a farmer, I know there are many problems ... one is the surplus of dairy products due partly to government supports, which discourage quality production. “

"In the mid-1930s, the Basse family was forced too vacate their Milwaukee County farm to make way for Greendale, a housing project dreamed up  by the Roosevelt administration to “get the economy going,” Klussendorf wrote. “ Our farm of 62 acres was sold to the U.S. Government in 1936 for $325 per acre or $20,000 total. The new farm on Highway 24 (now Janesville Road) in Muskego township in Waukesha County was purchased for $15,000 for 80 acres ... and in June 1936, we moved approximately eight miles. ” Ruth added, “The three hole outhouse was also moved because it was in  better condition than the one on the new farm.”

Enter Delbert Klussendorf

In April of 1936, Delbert Klussendorf of  Pewaukee began work on the farm as a hired man. “He attended the UW Farm Short Course and eventually the UW four-year-long course. Along the way, he worked as a hired hand at various dairy farms to pay for is education,” Ruth wrote. “We started dating when both of us were enrolled in college in 1942, and we were wed on June 8, 1946, just two weeks after our graduation.”

After they we were married, Delbert worked on the Basse farm until 1953 when he became herd manager at Brook Hill Farm in Genesee Depot, one of biggest and most progressive dairies in the state. The herd was sold in 1958, and Delbert became herd manager at the famed Mooseheart Farm dairy in Illinois for 29 years.

Alvin and Carolyn Basse’s family members  are still much involved in agriculture. Behind their mother Carolyn Basse are (left to right) Dan, Linda Basse Wenck and Gloria. (Roger Basse was unable to attend thebook signing.)

The brothers

Ruth’s brother, Robert Basse, was also a Guernsey enthusiast who, after graduation from Oklahoma State, managed a well-known dairy farm in Tennessee before joining the Southeast United Dairy Industry Promotion Association.

Her other brother, Alvin, and his wife Carolyn, took over the home farm and further developed Basse’s Country Delight farm market, which is thrivng.

Wagon rides to the pumpkin patch are a highlight of a visit to the Basse’s Country Delight market
In addition to raising dairy cattle, the Basse family always raised apples and truck crops. Their Basse’s Country Delight market prospers today.

I can’t really properly write about the generations that led to “Life and Times of William and Rose Basse, but Ruth Base Klussendorf could and did. Like these long-gone happenings:

  • Shiverees, when newlyweds were greeted by a raucous serenade of bells, whistles, banging pots and pans followed by lunch and beer. 
  • Outdoor privies, a time that that one had to live through to believe. 
  • The Great Depression, when many people were humiliated to go on relief, something often regarded as worse than death itse,lf and many who suffered during the time continued their frugal lifestyle long into the future. 
  • Threshing, the hard work, big meals and neighbor togetherness
  • If one had a cold, a mustard plaster or wool cloth with Vicks Vapo Rub was applied to the chest.
  • Before 1955 and the introduction of Salk vaccine when polio crippled and killed people.

Ruth Klussendorf relives the good (or bad) old days when life was simpler but more complicated. In 1948, her father William Basse wrote in a newspaper article, “There is not the sociability among farm folks that there used to be. That is what made life in the country so pleasant and wholesome.”

Read why he said this. You’ll enjoy every page of  "Life and Times of William and Rose  Basse." I couldn’t put it down. (Get it on

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications.  He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at

A book that will be enjoyed by all -- those who lived it those who always wondered about.