Snapshots: Farm life in Bond County, Illinois

Nov. 10, 1934, was cold. Dr. Hediger came four miles from Jamestown to our drafty farmhouse built just outside the rural town of Pocahontas, Illinois. Anton and Minnie Korte’s ninth child—me—was born.

A year and a half later, in 1936, we moved to another farm a mile away. We needed a bigger house. It had no power, no indoor plumbing. Big brother George hauled me there in a wagon. Dad and the older kids rounded up and drove the livestock to new pens.

Dr. Hediger was back that October to deliver little brother Larry. The rest of the kids were born at St. Joseph Hospital in Highland, Illinois.

That’s where Dad was on Feb. 20, 1941, in the fathers’ waiting room. Mom was giving birth to twins, Barbara and Bob. Dad was there with Edgar Haller. Mrs. Haller was about to give birth to a son, Terry. Dad got the news it was twins. He’s up to 13 kids. He’s superstitious. He tells Edgar he’ll have to have one more.

I’m not sure if it’s because they were good Catholics that Mom and Dad had 14 kids or if it’s because Dad knew he’d have more help for farm chores. He put us to work early.

We started out hauling corn cobs, coal and wood for the stoves. I started when I was 3. When I got older I could help milk cows. Boys judged one another by how fast they could milk.

We were barefoot everywhere but school or church. Our feet toughened up each spring as we took water and lunch out to Dad and the older boys working in the fields.

We took baths on Saturday nights. To conserve fuel and water, we used the same water for four kids before we’d switch it. Mom heated the water on the kitchen cook stove. Our older sisters helped clean us all. “Potatoes growing in your ears,” Marie always said.

Farm work took priority. It’s why I never went to high school. I got my GED through the U.S. Army after I was drafted in 1954. They had me in South Korea, right by the DMZ.

Remember that story about Dad and Edgar Haller? I heard it for the first time from Edgar during my second date with Edgar’s daughter Donna. We were married in 1959.

My business took off. My philosophy was simple: Always work hard and don’t charge too much. Treat people fairly. Give them more than they expected. The result was a success I could not imagine. I’ve lived a blessed life.

But I still vividly remember our farm halfway between Pierron and Pocahontas in Bond County. I remember hauling corn cobs and coal and wood; I remember our crowded house. I can still feel the mud between my toes after a big rain.

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