Farm FamiliesJanuary 18, 2014
Stories by Tony Raap
Photos by Arianna van den Akker
Dubois County often is defined in terms of its manufacturing base, but at its heart, it still is very much an agricultural community. Locals take pride in producing crops and raising livestock, and farms that have been around for generations seem to be woven into the fabric of the community. The Herald decided to take a deeper look at this tapestry. Here is a collection of personal stories about local farms and what they mean to those who own them.
As a teenager, Sam Schwoeppe’s taste in boys differed from that of most girls her age.
She wasn’t impressed with big muscles or fast cars, but dairy cows made her swoon.
Sam, 40, who was raised on a dairy farm in Warrick County, met her husband, Darren, 44, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, at a dairy convention in high school.
“He had some really pretty cows,” says Sam, who blushes at the memory. “I liked that.”
Three years later, the couple married and began dairy farming near the Huntingburg Airport. They have two sons, Wyatt, 19, and Ethan, 18.
Each morning, their alarm clock rings at 3:30 a.m. They pull on their boots and jackets, then trudge off to milk their cows. In the afternoon, the ritual is repeated, precisely 12 hours apart. Dairy cows are creatures of habit. They need to be fed and milked at the same time each day. Get them off their schedule, and they don’t produce as much milk. Dairy cows perform best when they are pampered.
“It takes a particular person to do it,” Sam says. “You’ve got to really be patient and hard-headed. It’s not something that’s rewarding every day, that’s for sure.”
A few months ago, her family gathered for a weekend reunion. Sam hurried through her morning chores, so she’d make it on time. When she arrived, all she could think of was the work that awaited her once she returned home.
“This job,” she says, “is your life.”
Ethan, a senior at Southridge High School, has plans of becoming a diesel mechanic. But Wyatt, who recently graduated from Southridge, wants to be a dairy farmer. At first, Sam wondered whether that was the right choice for Wyatt, who had always done well in school. She had higher aspirations for her eldest son.
“You can do about anything you want to do,” she recalls telling him. “Smart people like you need to give back to the community.”
Wyatt just stared at her.
“Mom,” he responded. “What is more beneficial than raising food for a community?”
“Well,” Sam says, “I can’t argue with him for that.”
The memories of watching his father toil in the turkey barn still run through his mind.
Craig Recker worshipped his father.
Wherever Dad went, so did he, trailing behind him as if he were his father’s shadow.
But late one night in June 1977, Patrick Recker’s pickup ran off the side of State Road 164 near Jasper, striking a utility pole and smashing into a tree.
Patrick, 38, was pronounced dead upon arriving at Memorial Hospital. He left behind a wife and seven children, including Craig, who was then just 5 years old.
After the family said its last goodbyes, some wondered what would happen to their farm near Ferdinand. Lucille, Craig’s mother, kept things afloat until Kurt, her eldest son, took control, along with Craig and their brother-in-law, Kent Schaefer.
But just when it seemed that they had put Patrick’s death behind them, it happened again. Late one night in November 1988, Kurt’s pickup ran off the Huntingburg-Ferdinand Road and smashed into a tree. Kurt, 21, was pronounced dead after arriving at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Huntingburg.
“Our family’s been through a lot,” says Craig, 41, who has another brother, Kent, of Pellville, Ky., and four sisters: Jan Jacob, Lynne Schaefer, Gina Wilmes and Liz Helming, all of Ferdinand.
Through it all, the family has held on to the farm. To Craig, it is much more than just a piece of land.
It is a testament to their perseverance.
“All we’ve ever known was farming,” says Craig, whose grandfather, Ray Recker, also farmed.
Craig and his brother-in-law farmed together until about six years ago, when each decided to go their own way. Besides raising turkeys, Craig also grows corn and soybeans.
He and his wife, Tammy, have four children: Tyler, 18, Miles, 17, Autumn, 14, and Patrick, 10, who was named after his grandfather.
Tyler will farm full time with his father when he is graduated from Forest Park High School this spring.
“It’s really not a job,” Tyler says. “It’s a way of life. Like Dad always says, you don’t really have to work a day in your life if you love what you’re doing. And I love what I do.”
The jester holds court in a cattle shed, standing next to a herd of bellowing cows.
Feed them late, he says, and you are bound to get “mooed out.”
“There are times,” he says, “when they moo like, ”˜Where the hell have you been?’”
Mike Lammers, 56, thinks he is a comedian.
Ask him about his John Deere tractor, and he will wisecrack about his hearing, which is beginning to fail him as the result, he says, of riding inside a noisy tractor.
“They say that rock ”˜n’ roll music would make you go deaf,” he says. “They didn’t say anything about that motor all day long.”
Ask how long his family has farmed, and he will rattle off another quip.
“As long as somebody’s been doing this,” he says, “you’d a thought they’d figure a better way to make a living.”
Lammers and his wife, Mary, raise cattle and grow corn, soybeans and wheat near Huntingburg. The land has been in the family for more than 100 years.
His father, Jim, is supposed to be retired but still feeds the cows in the morning. His brother, Brian, sorts packages at UPS but helps with chores when he gets off work.
Mike’s sons, Lance and Jordan, whom he calls his “indentured servants,” lend a hand, too, though both have found work in town — Lance at Rural King and Jordan at Nancy Baer Trucking. His daughter, Beth, is a nurse in Indianapolis.
Mike has farmed his whole life. When he was younger, he worked as a mechanic, but that was short-lived. He enjoys the freedom that comes with being your own boss.
“You just do what needs to be done,” he says, “and if you don’t feel like doing this today, you go do something else.”
But farm work can be dull sometimes. That’s why he tries to add a little comedic flavor to the job.
“You got to enjoy yourself, especially with as much time as everybody spends at work,” he says. “If it’s just a matter of making a living, there’s a million ways to do that.”
Standing outside his farmhouse, Mike mentions that he looked at a farm recently that had an asking price of $40,000 an acre. A smirk flickers across his face as he delivered the punch line.
“I told my wife, ”˜You know, dear, if somebody comes and offers $40,000 an acre, we’re out of here,’” he says with a chuckle. “You can pack up and go somewhere else and do it. It’s not that you have to be here.”
But then, the jester grew serious for a moment.
“On the other hand,” he says, “my relatives sacrificed a lot to get these properties. I just wouldn’t give that up for nothing.”
How do you explain something that’s in your blood? Are there any words to describe something that has been in your family for more than 125 years?
Let’s start with the pigs.
That’s as good a place as any.
Brian Weisheit, 46, has been fattening hogs — from farrow to finish, as he likes to say — for as long as he can remember. Sure, he grows corn and soybeans, but primarily he raises hogs south of Portersville.
See that field over yonder? That’s where Brian learned to combine when he was still a teenager.
His father, Lewis, put him in charge of important jobs at a young age. Dad wanted Brian to feel like part of the operation, not just the low man on the totem pole. He knew Brian would be more productive that way.
You see, Lewis always knew what he was doing. When 260 acres of land came up for sale next to their farm, he bought it.
People called him crazy. “How’s he ever going to pay for that ground?” they wondered. You have to remember this was 30 years ago, when interest rates were sky high. But he wasn’t crazy. Sure, it was risky. But it was a calculated risk.
Lewis took out a hefty life insurance policy, and when he died in 1997, the land was paid for. He never made a payment on the principal. He just paid the interest.
That brings us to Randy, Brian’s eldest brother. The boys took over the farm in 1992.
Randy was a letter carrier, but each day, after finishing his route, he helped at the farm. He and Brian toiled in the fields until dark, together.
Randy loved to chat people up. It would take him an hour to get through Walmart just to pick up two or three things. But in 2011, he died of kidney failure.
Randy’s son, Preston, 31, is a banker in nearby Washington, specializing in agricultural finance. But he helps out on the farm each weekend. The lineage now extends to seven generations.
That’s why it’s so hard. It’s all so interwoven. When he talks about his farm, Brian can’t help but think of his father and brother.
“You can’t put it into words,” he says, his voice choked with emotion. “I will tell you, it means a lot of sacrifice.”
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