On August 13th, 2023 The Diocese of Salina, Kansas and the Rural Life Commission celebrated Rural Life Day and presented the Century Farm Awards at St. Joseph Parish, Oakley, KS. Fr. Luke Thielen served as host for the event as well as giving a closing prayer. All of the families involved expressed the many blessings given them are the result of their Catholic Faith. Faith is one of the backbones that has contributed the the history of farming in the rather unpredictable Great Plains Farm Life.
Rural Life Day was observed by the families of the Msgr. John George Weber Century Farm Awards and other locals parishioners. Approximately 40 people were in attendance. The Century Farms Awards were presented to: Joe and Vicki Schmidt, Rawlins County; and Eugene C. and Margaret Wetter, Norton County.
Monsignor John George Weber was born Aug 10, 1916 in Victoria to Jacob and Rosa (Herrman) Weber. He was ordained on May 30, 1943 and celebrated his first Solemn Mass in Park, KS, on June 5, 1943. On Feb. 10, 1960, he was named executive secretary for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Des Moines, IA. IN June 1963, he was named Papal Chamberlain to Pope John XXIII in in May 1968, he was named Domestic Prelate. Msgr. John George Weber served in many parishes during his life and retired in Salina where he served as part-time associate pastor at St Mary’s Catholic Church and was very active at St Mary’s Grade School, where the children loved and adored him. He died at age 93 on July 1, 2010.
The Schmidt family history was presented by the Schmidts. Christian Schmidt, Great Grandfather, was born in Germany in 1861. At the age of four, his parents sailed to America with the promise of free land and free religion. Upon the ship’s arrival in the Gulf of Mexico during the Civil War, they were informed that all adult males would be forced to fight for the South if they made landfall. The ship turned and traveled north up the Eastern coast of the US and landed in Canada. From there, Christian’s family lived briefly in Canada, and then traveled to Illinois.
In his 20’s, Christian set out with his brother Ernest to Kansas to take part in the Homestead Act free land program. The joke of the family has always been that Christian said that the Illinois ground was so wet that he could only raise cockleburs and mosquitos. As they traveled through Kansas, they kept thinking that it would eventually get better, but they finally decided to make do in Rawlins County. Although disappointed at first, Christian found out he could raise just as much dry-land corn along the fertile bottoms of the South Fork Sappa Creek as he could in the wet soils of Illinois.
Christian homesteaded a quarter acre in southeast Rawlins County in 1886, which was then sold in 1896 after he purchased school land a half mile East where Joe and Vicki Schmidt currently live. The following year he purchased another quarter just south of the first, where he built a home for his family. More acres were acquired over the years.
Christian and Elizabeth Schmidt had 3 children; Albert, Ruth, and Elmer. Ruth married and moved to Oberlin, and Elmer joined the Army. Grandpa Albert worked the land for his father through the dirty 30’s. Albert would work down along the creek and would have little warning when the dirt storms blew up. He would turn his mules loose to find their way home, and he would hang on to the fence and follow it home. Vicki’s family also has ties to this same area, as her grandparents Everett and Vivian Barnhart rented land from Albert and helped both Albert and Christian on the farm and in their home.
Albert and Leoti had a son Leroy Schmidt, my dad. Leroy took over the farm and married Daisy and raised 4 children. Leroy and Daisy purchased additional acres and farmed with their children.
Joe and Vicki Schmidt were married in 1974 and worked with Joe’s family on the farm for many years. They also raised 4 children, Tobina, Mandi, Barry, and Tanner. After his parents’ death, Joe and Vicki assumed the farming operation. In addition to the typical hardships that farming entails – including the worst drought in memory just last year, Joe and Vicki have also managed unique challenges that a family farming operation encounter. Amidst the obstacles, they also welcomed son Tanner and his wife Wendy as partners in the operation to ensure the family farm continues for another generation of raising cattle, wheat, and dry land corn.
Throughout the years, Joe and Vicki not only relied on their faith but deepened their relationship with our Lord. Active in Sacred Heart parish in Atwood, they remain one of the original participants in the Marian devotion Mother Thrice Admirable which began as a pilot project by Bishop Weisenburger in 2015. They practice a daily habit of praying a devotional together and listening to the day’s readings before work begins. All eleven of their grandchildren have been baptized in the Catholic Church. Their kids and grandkids gather at home for the annual tradition of harvesting wheat. Faith and farming are interwoven in this family operation and are core to these current generations of Schmidt’s tending the land and providing bread for body and soul.
Eugene C and Margaret Wetter presented the Wetter Farm History. The beginning of the Hubert Joseph Wetter Family farm in Norton County began in March 1901. Hubert Joseph Wetter, known as Joe, had come to see what land was available for farming. A place west of town was for sale but water was unavailable. Due to this, Joe purchased a 160 acre farm for $4,000.00 located 4 miles NE of Norton.
Joe returned to the Hanover community to bring his wife, Catherine Anna Lueken Wetter, and four children by train to their farm. He rode in a freight car with the few household items; some machinery and a few head of cattle and some chickens. The family rode in a passenger car. The house on the farm was one room with a lean-to.They added some sod rooms and a log stable. Later, a wood frame home was built.
Adjoining land was available for sale and Joe purchased 160 acres to the east of their home for $6,500 on February 22, 1923. The reasoning was that as each of the children married they would have a place to live and ground to farm. The first family would be the third son, Joe Jr. and Sylvia, who farmed the ground. They were followed by the fourth son, Ben and Rose in 934 and they lived there until 1941. They moved off the farm to another rental place, so the second son, Anton and Minnie would purchase the farm February 8, 1941 for $2,150 from Joe and Catherine. They lived there until September 2, 1944. Then Ben and Rose bought this property for $4,000. It was owned by Ben and Rose until their oldest son, Lawrence and Phyllis Wetter purchased the land in 1986. Following, in 2004, the second son of Ben and Rose, Eugene and Margaret Wetter, bought the 160 acre and own it to the present day.
Joe was known in the community as a knowledgeable farmer and would be asked for advice from other farmers. One instance Ben told that other farmers would wait to plant corn until Joe began planting. Crops raised were oats, wheat, corn and barley. Harvesting crops was shared by neighbors helping each other. As Joe’s family got older, the boys could help plant crops and formed a harvest crew of their own. More farm ground was purchased when money was available, or was rented from the owner. Most of the crop was used to feed cattle, horses, and chickens. Wheat was shocked, then threshed and grain taken to town to be sold. Some of the wheat was ground into flour at the mill near the elevator. Ben remembers his father, Joe, taking 50-60 bushels of wheat to town by horse and wagon and having it ground into flour at the mill, brought back in sacks, and would be used for baking.
Some seed was kept back for the purpose to plant the next season. Machinery was purchased as they could afford it, or was shared by neighbors. Horses were used to pull a plow or a drill for planting. As newer machinery, like tractors were available, it was purchased.
The Catholic faith of each of these early families was important. People in this community were of Catholic German and Irish descent. Early pastors when Joe and Catherine lived in the Norton community were Fr. Henry Leydecker, Msgr. Richard Daily and Fr. Thomas Tuite. Religious instruction was given by the pastor on Saturday afternoon. Ben Wetter was baptized by Fr. Daily and received First Communion and Confirmation from Fr. Tuite. Prayers were said by the family at mealtime, the Morning Offering at breakfast along with the meal prayer. The Angelus was said at noon and the rosary said by all the family in the evening with night prayers. Children attended Catechism classes during the school year, and also went to Religious Summer School in the summer, when religious Sisters would teach the 2-week session of classes. Family members of Joe and Catherine Wetter over the years to the present were active in parish activities and also as officers of Knights of Columbus, St. Francis Altar Society, CYO, choir, CCD teachers and servers.
After the presentations of the Century Farm Awards, Gerry Hein, owner of Hoxie Implement, gave a short presentation about the history of farming implements to those in attendance. Hoxie Implement has been in business since 1962 serving the needs of farmers in the area. This is another example of a Catholic Family helping those in their community and beyond.
The Rural Life Commission of the Diocese of Salina wishes to thank everyone for their help with Rural Life Day and the Msgr. Webber Century Farm Awards. The St. Joseph Parish Alter Society did a fantastic job of supplying refreshments for the social time after the awards presentations. Thank you Mr. Hein for taking time away from celebrating the St. Frances Cabrini 75th Anniversary to speak to those in attendance. We look forward to seeing everyone at one of our future events that highlights Faith, Family, Farming, and Rural Life in the Great Plains.