Bea Lebal, president of the Merrill Historical Society, and Bob Gruling, Chairman of the Century Farm Recognition program, presented Astrid Wegner with a Century Farm Award certificate. The presentation honoring the family took place at the rotunda at the Lincoln County Fair on Friday, July 20. To qualify for the award, the farm must have been in continuous family ownership for 100 or more years. The Wegner farm, located at W9004 State Rd 64, Merrill, has been in the family since 1905.
The first family property owners were William and Emma Wegner who purchased the quarter of land for $3,000 from William and Antonia Ristow on Nov.18, 1905. The property and area nearby was forest land. Thus, William constructed and operated a saw mill on his property for many years. William and Emma had 13 children – George, Edwin, Otto, Norman, Henry, Walter, Elsie, Alma, Anna, Ida, Selma, Mable and Bertha.
In 1931, William and Emma Wegner transferred a portion of the above property to their son and daughter-in-law, Edwin and Mabel Wegner for $1 and other valuable considerations. Edwin continued his father’s logging operation and expanded the dairy operation. He was also known to have a trapping line. Edwin and Mabel had four children – Harry, Dolores, Margy, and Frankin.
In 1966, Edwin and Emma transferred the property to their son, Franklin and daughter-in-law, Astrid Wegner. Franklin and Astrid continued farming on a small scale but Franklin also had other employment. The farm remained in joint ownership until Franklin’s death in 2006 when Astrid became the sole owner. Since then, the farmland has been rented to nearby farmers for cropping.
In the early 1960s, Franklin was in the US Army and stationed in Germany. While there, he met Astrid, a German girl, who lived in Nuernburg, Germany. Astrid tells that the moment she met him, it was love at first sight.
Franklin and Astrid dated and were married in Nuernburg in 1962. At first, Astrid’s father was not too happy about his daughter marrying a soldier who would be taking her to live in America. Two years later, January 1964, the army transferred Franklin to the states. Astrid remembers the flight from Germany to New York on a military plane with four propellers. They arrived in the states during a blizzard and became snowbound at La Guardia Airport. After conditions improved, they flew to Wausau.
From Wausau, they traveled by car to Franklin’s home – the Edwin and Mabel Wegner farm located 12 miles west of Merrill in the town of Corning. Astrid enjoyed meeting Franklin’s family and friends – and learning more about the area. After a month, becoming somewhat acquainted with Franklin’s family and friends, the US Military flew the couple to Fort Ort in California. While there, they lived in Monterey.
In November 1964, after Franklin completed his stint in the Army, the family returned to Lincoln County. Their first home was the vacant parsonage of Immanuel Lutheran Church and Franklin’s first job, since his discharge, was as an auto mechanic at the Elliot Standard Station in Merrill.
Franklin’s mother passed away in 1965. In that Franklin’s father needed help and support, the young couple moved to the home farm. Astrid commented that her father-in-law, Edwin, was a great help and a wonderful person. Because Edwin was quite fluent in German, they often conversed in German. However, she was determined to be proficient in the English language and preferred to converse in English.
Back in Germany, Astrid was strictly a big city girl. However, other than milking cows, she quickly learned to love life on the farm. She very much enjoyed caring for the calves. She also became very adept at assisting cows (if needed) during the birthing process. In addition to the above, Astrid drove tractor and assisted in field work.
They did not have a large farm operation. They started out with nine cows and then expanded the herd to about 28 with an average of 21 being milked. For a while, they also had sheep. In about 1972, they built an addition to the barn. After the completion of the addition, they modernized by installing a pipeline, bulk tank and barn cleaner. As the children grew up and attended school, they alternated on daily chores such as feeding the cattle and milking the cows. About 25 acres were under plow and Astrid, as well as the children, were involved in field work as needed. The farm was fairly well equipped with three tractors and machinery such as: a hay bine, side rake, baler and hay elevator. Franklin and Astrid discontinued their dairy operation in 1989.
Today, perhaps one of the more beautiful sites on the farm is the large pond. Because of the many springs in the area, it seemed only natural to have a friend, Art Steidinger, excavate a site for the pond with his bulldozer. The pond served as a watering hole for cattle and a recreational spot for swimming and fishing. Even now, it is especially attractive with cattails surrounding the waters’ edge and the mowed path from the house leading to the pond providing an invitation for a pleasurable experience.
Having lived in the states for almost 10 years, becoming an American citizen was often on Astrid’s mind. In 1973, she obtained her citizenship along with two other immigrant families from Switzerland – Henry and Edith Gross and the Albert Haltinner family who had settled in Scott Township, Lincoln County.
According to Astrid, she was never homesick. Prior to marriage, she knew that she would have to make many adjustments when leaving Germany and beginning life in a new country. Thus, she made up her mind that she would not be homesick. Her father had been concerned about her marrying an American soldier and eventually living in America. In fact, during WWII, he had served in the German military and perhaps was not completely certain about German/American relationships. This may have been another reason she was very intent about keeping a positive attitude about leaving her homeland to live in America. Astrid stated that one of her biggest adjustments was to foods. It seemed that spices used in German cooking were not available here at that time. Perhaps most difficult, however, was the adjustment to the snow and cold Wisconsin winters. In her hometown, Nuernburg, the weather was much milder.
Franklin and Astrid have five children: Marion (Wayne Lammert – Merrill); Brenda (Jim Jahnke – Colorado); Susan ( Louis Banuelos – Aurora, IL); Robert, Merrill; Robbin (Steve Ranta – Merrill).
The couple has eight grandchildren: Christopher, Daniele, Kyle, Brandon, Jennifer, Patricia, Sarah, and Stacy.