Christians family resides on Jackson County farm for more than a century
LAKEFIELD — “Aww, it’s been pretty boring,” says Ken Christians as he reflects on his more than 40-year farming career — obviously waiting for his wife, Charlotte’s reaction, as he flashes her a wide grin from across the dining room table in their Lakefield home.
Charlotte returns her husband of more than 55 years’ comment by catching his eye and simply bursting into laughter, which gets Ken to laugh even harder.
The third-generation Jackson County have earned the right to celebrate, as the 160-acre Rost Township parcel earned Century Farm status this year. The Century Farm program is spearheaded by Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota State Fair.
Since he was 2, Ken has lived in the farmhouse built in 1915 in Section 20 of Rost Township. His parents, Edward and Viola Christians, purchased the farm from Ken’s grandparents, Frank and Rosa ‘Rose’ Christians, who planted the family’s roots there in February 1918. Ken and Charlotte continue to own the farm that sits in the Heron Lake-Okabena school district — although their daughter, LeAnn Salentiny and her husband, Dennis, reside in the original farmhouse with their six children and share/rent the land.
Ken and Charlotte made many memories in their approximately 33 years of living in the original farmhouse, many of which they enjoy laughing about today.
There was a time when the lean-to — an extension from the original barn intended to provide shade for livestock — was ripped from the barn by a small tornado.
“We didn’t realize it had happened until the next morning and the cattle were bellering by our bedroom window,” Charlotte said.
The couple sold the cattle in 1981 after rented pasture ground 2½ miles away got more difficult to move them to.
“They’d winter in the home place and calve on pasture in the spring,” Ken said.
The Christians recall other animal unpredictabilities over the years.
Ken remembers witnessing his then 2-year-old son, Mike, loudly running toward him, a rooster in tow.
“(Mike) came screamin’ and hollerin’ and there was this rooster chasin’ him,” Ken said.
Charlotte said that, to this day, Mike hates chickens.
“It really traumatized him,” she said.
Other animals on the Christians farm have included chickens, ducks and pigs.
Despite a few mishaps along the way, Ken is thankful nothing too disastrous occured during his time farming.
“You always have a crop or two,” Ken said about the inevitable poor crop that comes with the territory of farming.
The ground has long supported soybeans, corn and alfalfa and, in the earlier years of Christians family ownership, oats and flax.
“I used to, as a kid, ride on the wagons,” Ken said, talking about how he worked alongside his father.
Much like Ken helped his father on the farm, Ken and Charlotte’s kids had responsibilities, too.
Mike, LeAnn and Sarah Messer each got to serve as weed control, walking beans periodically while growing up. Eventually, Ken built a tractor seat and the weeds were sprayed instead.
Ken and Charlotte’s work on the farm has included more than planting crops and raising livestock.
When the kids became school-aged, Charlotte began what she will conclude this August as a 44-year career in the insurance business.
She and Ken also had their work cut out for them with general upkeep and renovation of what was then a more than half-century-old farmhouse. While still original, the house looks much more modern than its 1918 version, as depicted in old photographs. In 1975, the couple added steel siding. A family room addition, finished basement and second bathroom were completed in 1978.
Prior to Ken and Charlotte’s work on the home, Edward and Viola added running water and the house’s first bathroom in 1948. A furnace and central heat were added at the same time.
Since LeAnn and Dennis moved in, the home has undergone a kitchen/dining remodel, siding repaint and a deck addition.
The barn is also original. There are currently three of the four sides complete with new tin siding.
The family’s memories could have looked much different had Ken’s grandparents not migrated west by train with relatives and friends from Champaign County, Illinois more than 100 years ago.
“It was a fellowship migration,” Charlotte explained.
A selection of descendants that migrated together during that time and still reside in the Jackson County area include the Loeschen, Rademacher, Luebben and Post families.
Frank and Rose, who had actually wed in 1905 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Rost Township, returned to Jackson County after land prices drove them out of Illinois.
At $130 per acre, the couple purchased the northwest quarter of section 20 in Rost Township from Ferdinand Milbrath and repurchased farm machinery and personal property.
Frank and Rosa later built a new home, and Edward and Viola purchased the farm in 1940. Upon graduating from Lakefield High School in 1956, Ken began farming full-time along with his father, although he was active in the operation much before then.
He eventually purchased the farm in 1970, but his father persisted.
“Dad was pretty active in coming out still,” Ken said.
Ken and Charlotte eventually moved to Lakefield. In 1998, the couple built a new home south of the golf course.
“It just worked out so perfect, because (LeAnn) got married that same year,” Ken said of his daughter and son-in-law, Dennis, who then moved to the farmhouse.
At present, Ken said, the family does not have an ultimate plan regarding the old farmhouse or who will continue to tend the land, but he’s hopeful it will remain in the family for future generations.