Friday, July 21, 2017

Of Sweat and Soil Part 5: Beginning Again

Of Sweat and Soil
Part 5:  Beginning Again

By John W. Vander Velden

My Uncle had found a farm in the LaPorte area needing a farmer.  Dad flew from Jacksonville to Chicago and then to South Bend.  It was the first commercial flights he had taken.  I was not yet ten but when he returned and I knew we were going back to Indiana.  I remember leaving Florida, leaving William Coughenour, who we, the kids, only called “Boss”.  Not out of submission or disrespect, for he was the closest thing to a grandfather I have ever known.  I do not know how I understood even at that age that life was about changes, about those we meet, friends we make, places we know, that they are sometimes left behind, but I did. 

We could not go directly to our new home.  The Baughmans that had farmed the Morrison farm for thirteen years could not move to their new farm three miles down the road as early as expected.  All our things loaded on the tarped Dodge remained in my aunt’s and Uncle’s driveway for weeks.  Their farm was out of the school district we would attend, so dad drove us to school and back each day.

It was cold.  Perhaps not exceptionally, but it had been 80 degrees our last day in Florida.  Though we found the snow was exciting, an old friend to which we had returned, we had little ability to deal with it.  The old house, parts dated to 1860, on the Morrison Farm, did not have central heat, and the Segler Oil Stove might have been sufficient for Florida was not up to the task.  I could see daylight through a hole in the wall in what would become the bedroom I shared with my older brother.  Brrrrrrr.

But the buildings were in good repair and ready for the work my father had come to do.  With time we adjusted to the different climate.  The Landlord, eager to please their new tenants, did much to fix the house.  New doors and storm windows and siding made the old place look presentable.  Central heat came many years later.  But we settled in and though things remained tight, dad began climbing the ladder upward one rug at a time.

Farming was very different in the sixties.  So were farms for that matter.  The Morrison Farm had hedge fences.  Rows of thorny trees, Osage Orange they were called.  No kin to the citrus for Florida. There had been a time when the hedges were trimmed twice a year, but that had been long before we arrived on the scene. The unruly thorny rows divided the main part of the farm into small fields.  During our tenure the wild tall overgrown hedge rows were taken out one after the other.  I remember the hours of “root picking” we spent trying to pick up all the debris the bulldozers missed.  Osage Orange roots do not rot quickly and could cause problems with the equipment, rotary hoes in particular.  By the time we left the land lay wide open, a half mile by half mile space of fertile land.

To us kid it seemed we had been separated from Indiana for eons.  But in the under three years little had changed and dad farmed pretty much like he had before the southern migration of ‘59.  Making hay with an A-C roto-baler, was meant for limited labor, and that worked in Westville and it worked the first years back.  But loading the barn by rope drawn hooks was tedious and hard.  A bale elevator upgraded that part of the operation and a square baler followed when I became old enough to drive a tractor.

The barrel roof barn had thirty-two stalls, and dad milked as many as forty.  We carried the milk to the bulk tank by hand, until we could acquire a step-saver, a machine that hauled the milk through a clear plastic hose.  Though things remained tight all those years, dad gained ground step by step.  Paying for equipment, getting a new tractor, larger silage wagons, a new forage harvester, and a pull type combine was added to the list of purchases.  He was progressing and through that progression the dream returned to life.

Perhaps it was when my uncle purchased his own farm in the mid sixties that a new urgency built with in my father and mother.  But the dream was yet out of reach.

Life went on and finally the time came when dad and mom felt they could begin the search for their own place.  It was 1970 and they met with several realtors, searched ads, and went to see many farms.  When they, at last, thought they had found a farm within their budget, after countless trips to the Walkerton area and to bankers ETC, in the 24th hour the deal fell through.  By chance a family friend knew of a farm not two miles from the one they had spent more than two years trying to acquire.  That was how they met Dr. Eldon Burke, a college professor.

In comparison to the failed attempt, all the legalese was a walk in the park.  On my birthday in 1972 dad signed the papers and could say that he and my mom were buying their own farm.   
(877 Words)                  7-1-2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Of Sweat and Soil: Part 4 The Florida Years

Of Sweat and Soil
Part 4:  The Florida Years

Florida was a great place for kids…then.  I suspect in many ways it still is.  But this isn’t about the childhood I had, it’s about the road my parents took.
It was almost exactly eleven years since my parents had come to the United States that they migrated again.  Yes, it was the same country…but…  The weather alone would have been enough for Florida to claim a foreign status to the Northern Europeans.  And the people there spoke English, but once again it was not exactly the same.  Phrases and slangs were unique to the South.  But overall we fit into the culture…for the most part.  Though there were parts of the “Culture of that age” which I still abhor to this day…parts my family never participated.
Again for dad things were very different.  The “Ranch”, the 500 acres of mostly swampland and pine trees, was not the dairy farm we had left.  We had two cows, which dad milked by hand in stalls that stood outdoors.  We began with Brahma and Brahma mix cattle.  I recall one that had long horns that stood straight out like a Texas Longhorn.  I remember one cow that injured her back jumping out of the cattle truck, the wound never completely healing.  Most of the cattle were mean enough we gave them wide berth.  For a time the ranch had an old ford pickup.  We would ride in the back while dad poured feed off the tailgate as it drove through the pine grove.  The animals running up behind to be first to gobble up the treats.
The weather in central Florida had little in common with Indiana.  Strange though winter “lows” might dip only into the twenties, yet coats were as heavy.  I suppose the difference from summer’s intense heat to winter’s frost drove the need.  But I remember the crazy intense summer afternoon thunderstorms that swept through around two o’clock. It was in Florida my older brother became a hunter and the September Hurricane Donna tore through the state, my youngest brother James was born.
Hoping for a little extra cash for his growing family, dad built two large hotbeds in the lot next to the house.  I remember a small red International cub tractor and the transplanter that he and my brother Jerry rode as they placed the thousands of green pepper plants between the machine’s moving fingers.  I was to run behind and fill in the ones that got missed.  I couldn’t keep up very long.  Peppers must not have done well for the following year the hothouses were replaced by a field of watermelons.  All the work resulted in a truck load of the green fruit.  Dad parked on a busy intersection but sold few.  Most of that truckload of melons came home and were, over time, fed to the pigs.  With those fed, those given away, and those our family devoured, none went to waste.  I never had a taste for watermelons, maybe that’s why.
Dad was the first in Alachua County to grow corn for grain.  At least as far as I know he was first.  A few others raised corn for silage, but he was told Florida was no place for field corn.  He bought a two row planter and planted in February…imagine that.  It was difficult to find a corn picker, but a one row Minneapolis Moline snapper was found at last.  You picked corn in the summer…August maybe.  The corn so dry…hard to imagine with the humidity of the place…that what we knew as corncribs were not necessary.  He shoveled the corn from the wagon to bins made in a pole barn.  I remember walking past that stored corn and hearing the crackely-crackle of the weevil feeding on the bright orange ears.
Dad ground feed after dark, because it was all hand labor and the days were too hot.  Things did not go well for him in Florida, a place too hot for a working man to work the way he wanted.  Maybe if he had stayed things might have turned around, but in two and a half years all the gains he had made since 1948 had dwindled away.
On February 20th 1962 with the old 49 Dodge truck loaded to the hearth, we left Florida, the friends and connections, and even the Coughnours behind.  For dad, it meant starting over in Indiana. 

(737 Words)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Of Sweat and Soil Part 3

Of Sweat and Soil

Part 3

By John W. Vander Velden


I do not know what thoughts passed through my parent’s mind when they got off the train in LaPorte, Indiana that October day in 1948.  My Aunt Agatha and Uncle Cornelius Koppert met them as they arrived.  Also, by chance, Rev. Victor Fronie, the pastor of St. Paul’s Evangelical and Reformed Church, happened to be at the station that evening.  He would be our family’s pastor all the years we lived in the LaPorte area.
Frank Scholl needed someone with a strong back and a willingness to work.  He found both in my father.  I know little of those years he worked for the Scholls.  They lived in a small house next to Scholl Hill on Division Road.  Dad was provided with an old Willy’s Jeep to drive the four miles down Scholl Road (see the pattern here) to the Oak Ridge Farm, where he worked with my Uncle.  Perhaps being surrounded by everything new and different, they might not have notice how difficult those first few years were.  But they learned the language.  For though they had taken English lessons in Holland, it seemed, as dad said, “A different English” than what was spoken in America.
They felt, in many ways, isolated.  Separated from most of their family, and living within a culture they did not fully understand must have left them reeling, if they had time to notice.  But it was a start, and hope lay on their horizon. Their first born, Gerard, named after Dad’s father, came in those Scholl years, as life progressed.  In late 1951 or very early 1952 dad’s first break came in the man named William Coughenour. Dad had been no more than a hired man at Scholl’s, but began farming on his own as a tenant for Mr. Coughenour on his farm near Westville.

Three more children came the years they lived on the Westville farm.  I was born first, soon after they had moved there, followed by Joyce in 1955 and Dorothy in 1956.  As a child growing up, the country life was the only thing I knew.  Access to the fields and woods and time spent watching the minnows or tadpoles in the ditch a part of my memories of those years.  We sledded down the hill across the road from our house in the winter, and I taught myself to ride a bicycle.  And I remember my parents hard at work, mom at home and dad not so far away, usually within sight.  I remember a cold hard winter, 1957 or 1958.  The Coughenours wintering in Florida trusted my father to run things.  The snows stacked, the roads closed, even a tractor couldn’t cover the half mile between our house and the dairy barn on Joliet Road.  Dad cut squares of plywood and tied them to his boots, snow shoes he called them, to walk over the deep drifts to tend to his work and the cattle’s needs.  The National Guard came with a helicopter to bring food to the families trapped by the snow and cold.  It was the only time my father rode in such a machine.  They picked him up when he had reached the other farm, brought him and two boxes of groceries, landing across the road from our home.  Of course when they left, my father had to trudge across the half mile of fields once again to the dairy barn.
I do not know what my parents thought of those years, but it was a beginning, a real beginning.  They slowly built up the things that made up a farm.  Dad’s first farm equipment his first cattle these came during those years.  They were progressing…moving forward but their dream was no more than some faint glimpse beyond even their farthest vision.
But things changed, life does that you know.
Dad had the greatest respect for Mr. Coughenour and learned so much about farming from the gentleman.  The feelings were mutual, for when Mr. Coughenour retired to a ranch in North Central Florida, he convinced my father to go along.
I was in second grade when we loaded all we had on a 49 Dodge truck in the late fall of 1959 and moved to Alachua, Florida and a very different life.

(707 Words)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Of Sweat and Soil Part 2

Of Sweat and Soil

Part 2 

By John W. Vander Velden


It was not family problems that drove my parents to cross the sea.  Both had very good relations with their individual large families.  Mom had eight brothers and sisters, and dad had six.  Maybe it was because they loved and admired their parents that they were impatient to prove themselves.  Their whole lives had been denied.  Born in 1925 the depression hit Holland as hard as anywhere.  Simply put there was nothing.  But just when things might have begun to improve, World War II sent the low countries and much of the rest of Europe into a turmoil that none could have expected, and fortunately a turmoil that we, the next generation, have been spared.  The Netherlands became an occupied country.  And when you hear your parents speak of hardships in the United States during that time…well yes, it was tough, but nothing in comparison to what those that lived beneath the gun had faced. 

So dad found himself in the “doughnut hole” when he was ready to begin his life.  Opportunities were promised in the future.  Opportunities existed for those that had started before the war, but in the late forties there were nothing but promises.  Dad was not a patient man, and promises were, in his mind for those that would wait.  He had little faith in promises.

My parents went to meeting about foreign possibilities.  They considered Brazil and Peru, but the best future seemed to be found in the land of “Possibilities” the United States.  So with plans made and years of procedures to follow dad’s sister and her family went to LaPorte County, Indiana.  And with Frank Scholl, the brother of Dr. Scholl of foot fame, as their sponsor, my newlywed parents followed a few months later.  So in October of 1948 Jacob and Nel Vander Velden began the difficult task of fulfilling their dream.  
(311 Words)

Friday, June 23, 2017

Of Sweat and Soil Part 1

Of Sweat and Soil

Part 1

By John W. Vander Velden 

When I wander the “place”, the farmstead, there are times when I let my mind go back to what we found here.  Though some might have called it a working dairy farm, I am not certain that would be my description of this farm in 1972.  I remember the piles of metal, mostly over worn farm equipment.  A crumpled corn picker, the manufacturer unrecognizable, a corn planter that sat rotting away fertilizer still in its deteriorating hoppers, stacks of old fence, tangled, and just about everywhere bits and pieces of discarded “stuff”.  Behind the only structure that one could imagine as a machine storage shed we found the crumpled remains of a silo roof. 

We spent a Sunday afternoon, the whole family together, gathering wagon after wagon of junk to add to the existing piles.  Old fences lay tumbled down, the cow barn hadn’t been scraped out in months, a mess of its own.  All the manure, whenever the former man had spread it, had covered the lot next to the house with such a thick layer that nothing grew there for a year.  A chemical spill had killed all the grass in about half the yard.  The lot in front of the milking parlor looked like a war zone, with the twisted pipes, of an abandoned cattle crossing, sticking out the mounds of reddish earth between open holes revealing severed sewer pipes. 

The milking equipment did not work.  Period!  Nor did the feeder and silo unloader.  The conveyor for loading bales in the barn was mis-installed.  There weren’t three operating light switches on the place.  Not to mention that any light bulb within reach had been stolen.  

So what did dad and mom see, when they bought this place?  Possibilities…  I have to think of my parents in a bigger context.  They were descendants of farmers.  Though the farms on which they grew up had little in common with a dairy farm in Indiana.  But my grandparent earned their keep from the soil…soil they owned.  My parents left everything behind when they emigrated from the Netherlands in 1948. Everything except a dream.  They knew that one day…somehow…they would have their own place.  That a day would come and they could point to a corner of the world and say…this is ours… 

This broken down wreck of a place must have been to them, a seed.  A seed they believed when attended with enough effort and sacrifice could grow to become…their farm.
I worked with them, I witnessed the whole story of “Sunrise Acres”, and I will share a bit of that story with you.  This is but the first installment.  It is enough to say they did succeed when others had failed.  But the story starts before the papers were signed in February 1972.  And the next part will tell the story of a young couple’s beginnings.

4-1-2017  (483 Words)

Friday, June 16, 2017




By John W. Vander Velden


When I was young I believed that trees grew upward from their roots.  This stemmed from the fact that my brother, who was always a better tree climber, had found initials carved high up in a tree.  No one, I thought, would climb so high just to leave their mark.  Therefore, notice the logic, the whoever had carved it did so near the base when the tree was young.  The tree grew and year by year the initials rose higher and higher.

Some might see this as a silly childish notion.  One among the thousands of silly childhood ideas I had growing up.  That’s a part of growing up, isn’t it, to learn truths that expel false ideas?  But the fact is if I believed strong enough, nothing could have convinced me otherwise.  That’s human nature.  We wrap ourselves around a comfortable concept, kept all warm and cozy, and close our eyes to different ideas.

If I continued to believe that trees grew from their bases, it would not change the FACT that they grow from the tips of their branches.  I would simply go on believing what I believed.  And if to prove my point I made a mark in a tree to observe its rising, I could say that a tree grows so slowly I had not waited long enough for the change I knew was coming.

Today I know that it is silly to think trees continued to rise out of the soil.  Over my lifetime I have made corrections about a great many things that I believed were true but found were not.  Which does not make the importance, of those long ago notions, valueless.  On the contrary, by recognizing that “I was wrong” I can accept that I may still be wrong.  It opens me up to HEAR and SEE other views, to test my truths against different opinions.  I do not except other ideas as superior to mine, just because they are other peoples opinions.  But I must take truth known and hold it against truth suspected, recognizing that TRUTH remains TRUE, and truth does NOT fear questions.

For there are those things that are true…no matter what.  Facts that I know.  Facts which are foundations stones on which I have built my life.  You might disagree with the things I KNOW are true.  I’ll allow you the right to be wrong.  I will not twist your arm until you agree…that’s not me.  I will allow you to state you position, to hear you out.  As I have done so many times.  Like I said the truth does not fear questions.  But I believe in love…a power that can, if given its chance, overcome anything.  I believe that love is manifested in GOD the creator and master of the universe.  I believe in Love’s sacrifice.  Love strong enough to give up ones life for others.  So from that logic I believe that JESUS is GOD’s son, and HE died for me.

I have heard many other points of view.  I have held them against these basic TRUTHS and found them lacking.  Perhaps you would disagree.  Like I said you have that right.  But as for me…on these truths I stand.

(540 Words)  5-24-2017




Friday, June 9, 2017



By John W. Vander Velden


Yesterday was my day.

Tomorrow may be my day.

But today is my day!


Should we not be engaged in the now.  In truth it is all we have.  Yet it is too easy to dwell on what was…all the accomplishments… all the joy…all the good times.  Or to sulk over the past’s failures…the mistakes…heartaches…the dark days.  On the other hand how many times, do we feel certain that the future offers all the things that are presently out of our reach?  That the future holds all the wonders we seek.  So we spend too much time dwelling on the past and looking toward days ahead to fully take all today has to offer.
But today is the only day we have…really have…now!  I get up knowing that God has given me 24 hours…well maybe…but he has given me today.  I may not know what I will face on this revolution of the earth, but crawling back into bed, may be pleasant on occasion, but does not fulfill.  Better to get up and to it…whatever “it” might be.  I understand that what “it” is changes each day.  But there will be something to tackle today!
So I make a mental list of what I “might” do today, knowing that “the best laid plans” often fall to the wayside.  I do not drive myself as I did years ago, but just because I don’t hustle straight from day’s beginning to its end, doesn’t mean that I stand stationary.  I am grateful that there are things that demand my attention.  I may be frustrated that there are too many things that demand my attention, but there needs to be something.
So instead of milking cows every day…I did that for 35 years.  Instead of preparing soil and planting each spring and harvesting long days throughout the fall and into the winters…I did that for 45 years.  I will tend to a smaller world.  And among the tasks in that smaller world is my writing.  Each today…well almost every day…that I face at this juncture of my life, should include time for…writing.
For God has given me this gift, and it is my obligation to use all the gifts He has provided.  I hope that I have something of value to say.  I hope that I do not squander even this small talent on self-serving purposes.  For there surely is a need for words that lift.  There is a need for words to inspire.  There is a need for words to remind others of their greatness…their courage…their beauty…and that there is a God that loves them.
You see I can’t change yesterday.  Tomorrow is out of sight.  But today…today is my day…I should celebrate the now!

(456 Words)                  2/28/2017