Hardwick woman leaves childhood home after 86 years
Hardwick’s Jessie Wenzel is not your typical senior citizen.
The soon-to-be 87-year-old lives on her own, sews four-square quilts despite suffering from central vision loss and, until earlier this week, lived on the same Denver Township farm for all but six months of her life.
Born in Luverne, Wenzel never called any other place home, choosing to live and raise her own family on the farm homesteaded by her Grandfather Ellefson in 1888.
As each sibling matured and left the house to make their permanent home elsewhere, Wenzel’s stay in a different house as a newlywed was short-lived.
“In June (1948), I moved my clothes two miles east and in December moved my clothes back,” she said. ”I didn’t move a bed or anything.”
The young couple joined Wenzel’s dad in the farm operation. Wenzel worked at home raising her five children and operating an at-home poultry processing business. She later took off-the-farm jobs at businesses in Pipestone and Luverne.
Each night she would return to the family farm.
“We learned how to be independent watching Mom,” said daughter Paulette Richters.
Wenzel’s own independence appeared at an early age.
“I was the only one who worked the fields and helped my dad,” she said. “I had no brothers — someone had to be the tomboy.”
Her willingness to drive a tractor was illustrated in an old newspaper advertisement for the Production Credit Association. “ The Farm Wife — so important; so often overlooked …” was written over a picture of Wenzel sitting on a tractor.
Wenzel admits she didn’t limit her time just to housework after marrying Arnold “Bud” Wenzel in 1948. As she did beside her dad as a young girl, Wenzel tended the animals and continued to work the fields on a daily basis next to her husband.
“I wasn’t your typical farm wife,” she said. “Others were worried about having to make supper. We would have supper when we were done milking the cows.”
After Bud died in 2015, Wenzel continued to live on the farm with the assistance of her children.
They also share the same preference of staying near the farm.
Richters, Patty Swenson, Dean and Rick live in or near Rock County.
With her children so close to home, Wenzel didn’t have a reason not to return home each night.
“I wanted them to move at least 100 miles away so I could stay for a visit,” she said.
Friends have asked why Wenzel would want to leave the home where all her memories were made.
In her typical no-nonsense manner she said, “A lot of them are sad.”
Among the sad memories, she said, is son Robert’s drowning as a toddler and his funeral visitation in the home’s living room. Decades later her husband became terminally ill and moved to the hospice cottage, never to return to the farm.
“He loved this place,” Wenzel recalled.
Earlier this year, when her family decided it was time for her to leave the farm, she left all the moving details to them.
“She’s never packed before,” Richters explained.
“I am just going to sit back in the chair,” Wenzel said. “I can’t give advice because they all have more experience.”
The thoughts of leaving the farm and setting up a new home have been positive.
A three-ring binder was developed called “The To-Do List for Mom’s New Adventure.”
The binder contains lists and notes of what’s done and what’s left to do to prepare Wenzel’s new home on Luverne’s Oakland Street. The formal move took place over the weekend.
Living in town means Wenzel is within blocks of family members.
And true to her prediction, her children and many of the seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren were on hand organizing and welcoming Wenzel to her new home
“The excitement is back in Mom,” Richters said.
As thoughts of Richters’ childhood home came back into focus, she added, “We all had a good life here.”