Like mother, like daughter: Three generations of Kansas women take similar life paths
*An exhibit: “3 Generations of Brides/Ag Women” is on display at the Republic County Historical Society Museum in Belleville, Kansas – which Amy also oversees. It is a tribute to Brenda’s mother, Dorothy.
*For USDA information about farms operated by women: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib111/report-summary.aspx
When Brenda Danielson walked down the aisle in Byron, Neb., at 23, she was following in her mother and grandmother’s footsteps.
Years before, when her mom, Dorothy, was also 23, her fiance waited at the end of the same aisle. When her grandmother, Amanda, was the same age, she and grandpa Ernest promised to have and hold each other in front of that same altar at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
Danielson now lives with her husband, Roy, on the same farm both Dorothy and Amanda did in Republic, Kan. She’s a face of the trend of more women operating farms in the U.S. than ever before.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s report “Characteristics of Women Farm Operators and Their Farms,” the number of female-operated farms jumped more than 8 percent from 1978 to 2012. The biggest reasons for this include marrying into a farm family, inheriting farmland or continuning a family farming legacy.
For Danielson, the memories she’s made on the farm — as well as the lessons her mom and grandma passed down — are as fresh and full of life as the produce the sprouts from the north-central Kansas ground.
The family farm, just south of Byron on the Kansas side of the border, was a gift to Amanda and Ernest from Amanda’s parents — Danielson’s great-grandparents. That farmhouse is where Dorothy grew up.
Dorothy went to beauty school and owner her own beauty shop in Byron, before marrying Gene Fisher, Danielson’s dad.
Dorothy never intended to return to farm life until she married Gene. But after Ernest’s health declined, her mother insisted the young couple move home to take over the farm.
So, after living in Byron for less than two years, the beautician and her husband, who worked in the lumberyard, moved to the country to become farmers. Ernest and Amanda moved to town.
“Dorothy and Gene did not really want to be farmers, but my mom moved her Beauty Shoppe out to a room in the farm house and continued to work at hairdressing, along with raising three daughters, kittens, a dog, laying hens for eggs and butchering chickens for meat,” Danielson said. Dorothy also knew how to butcher a cow and a pig. She knew how to cut up and process the meat, a typical procedure on the farm in her day.
Both Dorothy and Amanda helped with the farm work and were skilled at milking cows.
Dorothy and Gene milked four or five cows each morning and evening in their early years on the farm. They sold milk, cream and eggs at the grocery store in Byron.
It was Amanda, though, who drove the tractor with the pull-behind combine and corn picker, while her husband, Ernest, hauled the loads of grain to the farm. Dorothy was the pick-up truck driver and the tractor driver. Her husband Gene ran the combine.
Though it was never what they wanted, Brenda’s parents chose to make farming fun.
“My mother learned to drive the bigger tractors as my father traded up in size,” Danielson said. “They loved to be in the field at the same time, with their ‘his’ and ‘her’ tractors. In fact, plowing was really fun for Dad, and they would compete as they traveled around the field. My dad would pass my mom, but when his larger plow plugged up and he had to get off and unplug the chunk of straw and dirt, Dorothy would again take the lead and Gene would have to catch up on the next round,”
Then, there were the vegetables grown from Dorothy’s own large vegetable garden.
“My mom loved to can her garden produce, as well as fresh fruit from others,” Danielson said.
Dorothy also sewed and made all her own dresses and most of her children’s clothes.
True grit and dedication to the land were qualities Danielson learned at a young age.
“Dad always said, ‘If you are going for a walk out in the pasture, take the shovel along and dig some thistles,’” Danielson said.
Danielson said she is the daughter who follows her mother’s training most closely. Brenda and her husband, Ray, raise alpacas on their farm. They process the fleece into yarn.
She enjoys working in her garden during the summer, spending time outside caring for the alpacas and helping her husband pick up the hay bales. He bales in spring for the alpacas to eat in winter and halter-trains the little crias.
Danielson is the last of the three generations still farming. Her mother Dorothy now lives in a nursing home. After more than 60 years, she packed away the apron and left the farm chores behind. Danielson can handle all that now — she had good teachers. ❖