What Draws us Here
Last month, I got a call from a very nice woman, who writes for a local paper who wanted to do a story about our beginnings in farming. The day we had scheduled to meet, 80 mile an hour winds came through and mercifully she turned around and made it safely home. The next morning was calm and peaceful and we had a lovely tour around the barn and in our little Red Brick house. Here is her story.
WRITTEN BY MAUREEN LUETMER
Minneapolis family at home in grandparent’s old homestead
“As a farmer, you have just a sense of your place in history. You don’t feel that it’s all about you, you know all the generations that came before you.” - Julie Mackenzie
As Julie Mackenzie stood one day under an old apple tree on a rundown farm in East Central Getty Township near Meire Grove, admiring the beauty of the open country, her thoughts were about her ancestors. She imagined how they must have enjoyed the freedom and blessings of the open land. Suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck stood up…
Mackenzie’s ancestors were farmers. Julie’s mother, Leora Wilcox Barthel grew up on a farm near McCormic Lake on the eastern side of Sauk Centre and was the oldest of six daughters. Mackenzie’s grandfather, Paul Wilcox, farmed there during the Depression. He was a World War I Veteran and died at 53 from a heart condition. He had been gassed in World War I, and just never recovered. Sadly, the family then had to sell the farm.
Before Wilcox died and they had to move, there were lots of memories made on the farm. Some good, and some bad.
“I had heard all these stories about my mother, who was in her early teens, and her sisters being raised in the Depression. In a lot of ways living in the country they were spared, because they could somewhat provide for themselves,” said Julie.
She remembered stories about her grandfather, and how he would guard the chickens with a shotgun by the door, so they would not be stolen.
“In those days chickens were like cash. My mother left the farm at 18,” continued Mackenzie. “They had no running water, no electricity and had to do laundry for a family of eight. They had to provide for themselves with what they could find on the land and in the woods. Those were really hard years.”
“My siblings and cousins are all over the country right now,” said Mackenzie. “I was living in Minneapolis, but we always come to Sauk Centre for our reunions. I was thinking that my grandmother had been dead for 10years, and we’re still coming to Sauk Centre. Everybody does the standard: we have a picnic in the park, we’ll drive past the cemetery, drive past the farm where all our mothers grew up and then we disburse again. During one of these reunions, as we were sitting in the JC Park, I wondered, ‘what draws us here?’”
It was after one such reunion some 10 years ago, that Julie and her husband noticed a sign by the road that said “Property for Sale.” Since they had been thinking about buying a cabin or farm for some time, they stopped to check it out. “For me it was a really amazing experience,” said Julie. “Just being there, close to where my grandfather farmed, was very exciting.
My husband said we have to understand land value, so we went in to town and got a copy of the Peach and there was one property for sale and it was interesting too because it was almost identical in description to what we wanted. It was 150 acres, 70/80 split, and 80 tillable and 70 was other stuff.”
Julie kept thinking to herself “well, okay, but my family’s farm is over there, and I’d like to kind of make it right with grandpa having died so young and the family having to sell the farm. We now at least had a price range that we could compare, so we made an offer. It was not accepted because they wanted more than that.”
The Mackenzies left their offer standing and went back to Minneapolis to their home and marketing business, but “we had the bug,” said Julie, and they returned sometime later.
Revisiting the Property
It was during their return visit with a realtor when Julie found herself standing on that piece of land near the old Schmiesing home in East Central Getty Township near Meire Grove. The home had been standing empty for years, and was near collapse.
In the side yard there was an orchard of apple trees, and one in particular was over 100 years old but still stood proudly, having lost a few limbs through the years. As Julie stood under the old ‘greening’ tree with her two youngest children who were four and six at the time, admiring it, she began to think back to when it was still young and productive. She wondered about the people that enjoyed those apples. Suddenly the hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she thought she could just feel those folks.
Mackenzie thought to herself, “Oh well, this is goofy,” and she asked the realtor, “Would you know if there would be a Bohemian cemetery anywhere around here?” Julie’s maternal grandmother came from Bohemia and she was remembering visits to a cemetery when she was a little girl. The realtor said, “Oh, yeah, if you go off the main road and take a right instead of a left like we did here, go about a mile and its right there.”
Then she asked him, “Does the name Weedeck or Peshek mean anything?” He answered, pointing to adjacent property, “Oh, that’s Peshek land right there,” and the first thought she had was ‘he’s pulling my leg and wants to sell this property pretty bad’ but he went on to explain, “This property that we are looking at is shaped like a backwards L – this is the Schmiesing property, and the Peshek property is right next to it and the Weedeck property is right next to that.”
Julie quietly said, almost as if to herself, “My grandmother was Rose Weedeck and was born on this property and her mother, Anna Weedeck and Mrs. Peshek were sisters and had come from Bohemia in the late 1800’s and had settled this land.” She even remembered that her great grandmother had her newspaper delivered here from Prague. She was kind of defiant in that she didn’t want to speak English, and so she liked her Bohemian paper.
So, a simple family reunion of her Scottish grandfather’s family, led the Mackenzie’s to land adjacent to her maternal Bohemian ancestors where they could trace their family line for six generations. To Julie Mackenzie this was utterly amazing! She was overjoyed. Of course, they bought the land as soon as they could and have since bought 100 acres of the Peshek property.
The old Schmiesing House
“One side of the old Schmiesing house was built in 1890 and the brick half was added onto it in 1910. It is my understanding,” said Mackenzie, “that Mrs. Schmiesing’s brother was an Imdieke and owned Imdieke’s Brick Yard in Meire Grove, and so they weren’t on the books, so to speak, (there’s a book about the German Catholic brick houses).
“Supposedly, this house was not in the book because it was not on the Imdieke records as Mrs. Imdieke got it as a favor from her brother or at a discount or whatever, and in 1905 this was added on. My mother remembers coming to this farm as a little girl in a wagon just as neighbors. She is now a very active 88 years old woman.”
Julie continued, “When we got to this property ten years ago, the house was ready to be torn down. There is a large crack in the side, so we built a newer home back farther on the property because we could afford it, but couldn’t afford to fix this up right away. We wanted to put the barn in, etc.”
Eventually, the Mackenzies had Wayne Kostreba refurbish the old house and it is nicely modernized in the inside but kept the same country look, inside and out. Julie said she was told by Cecilia Schmiesing, former occupant of the house many years ago, which corner of the house had the water pump, where she had pumped many a pail of water. The house is now used as a guest house.
The Present-Day MacKenzie Farm
Since the Mackenzies also do crops, they have renovated and now have a large barn in order to accommodate their three horses and 27 Purebred Ramboleitte white sheep. The animals have lots of clean, open space to roam and grow. The sheep each have their own coat to wear to protect their wool, and are sheered once yearly. The wool is then sold.
Julie likes to name the sheep and they come to her when she calls. There is also a llama named ‘Hotrod’ who tends the sheep better than a dog would, according to Mackenzie. Julie likes to dye, spin, knit and felt with the wool. She sells fresh fleece, combed top for spinners, dyed wool and dyed combed. She is also involved in Shepherd’s Harvest, Sheep & Wool Festival and is their media contact.
Julie Mackenzie commutes to her business in Minneapolis. She is the owner of a marketing consultancy called Mindsailing that helps organizations communicate through change and growth, dividing her time between there and the farm. She also has a garden and loves to work in it. She believes in helping herself as much as possible, but has learned to respect the invention of machines, too.
A special family reunion
Julie articulated her gratitude, “I feel very fortunate. I am blessed. As a farmer, you have just a sense of your place in history. You don’t feel that its all about you, you know all the generations that came before you.”
“Our cousin, Margie Peshek had Alzheimer’s and a couple of years ago she just walked away from her house in Melrose and they had to call out the National Guard and many local people to help find her. She was trying to come here. She said she was trying to come home.”
“A year later we had a big family reunion here and it was very gratifying for me to know that Margie, who was in bare feet ready to go because she knows every tree and every corner of our land, could come back and walk the homestead piece that we have and the woods and one field. Margie has since passed on but this was very gratifying to me,” said Julie.
This very ambitious gal, wife, mother of four, grandmother of three, agricultural engineer, business woman, believer in preserving the land and using the land for its best possible purpose is proud to be called a farmer, just as her ancestors before her.
I think Julie Mackenzie realizes now, what always drew them back.