The Natzke family of Merrill was recognized with Century Farm status during the recent Lincoln County Fair.
Herman and Hanna Natzke established the farm in the town of Corning in 1917. The family had previously lived on a farm that is now within the metro Mobile, Alabama area, They traveled by train from Alabama to Wisconsin with their six children, livestock and possessions. Two of their sons rode in the boxcar with the cattle. The rest of the family traveled in a Pullman car.
Herman had purchased his new farm from the Evangelical Lutheran Colonization Company, a business that helped German migrants to buy farms in Wisconsin and North Dakota. It is unknown how Herman Natzke learned of the Evangelical Lutheran Colonization Company while living in Alabama.
The Natzke family got off the train at Finn Corners (now the intersection of County Roads P & WW). Their mule was something of a curiosity for their new neighbors as they trekked the 15 or so miles from the depot at Finn Corners to their new home (now W9351 Natzke Rd.).
The farm was originally homesteaded by the Gottlieb W.J. Meyer family. The original deed was recorded at 10 a.m. on Feb. 25, 1892.
The barn had been built in 1901 and still stands today. Major changes have been made inside and a 1960s addition doubled the width of the attached shed.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, during the summer off season from woods operations, the large house was used to board lumberjacks who helped to clear the land. The current house was built in 1949.
Herman’s son, Elmer, was 10 years old when the family moved to Corning. He would spend the rest of his life on that farm. Elmer married Leona (Prast), whose parents owned a farm on Cty. M. Elmer and Leona had three children: Doris, Anita and John.
Herman Natzke died in 1935 and the property went to all six children. The siblings turned the property over to brother William in 1939. William then transferred the farm to Elmer on Feb. 10, 1947.
Elmer also served as a director for Consumers Cooperative Exchange from 1943-1976. Under Elmer’s ownership, the farm was set up as a corporation in 1977.
“Our dad decided it was in the best interest of the farm to incorporate with stock distributed to all members of the family,” John said, “as a way of keeping the family together and keeping the farm going.”
All three of Elmer’s children went to college. Doris was a Lutheran school teacher for 25 years before returning to the farm when her parents were in ill health.
“I stayed with them until my sister and brother-in-law came also and we helped my parents until they passed away.”
Anita also went into teaching elementary school. After she married Steve Barlau, they lived all over the country, and even moved to Germany for a time before returning to the family farm in 1982.
“I enjoy living in the country and being part of the farm community,” Anita said.
John went on to graduate school, earned his masters degree and was a college professor in Pennsylvania. In 2005, he too returned to the farm where he grew up.
“I feel very blessed that we made the 100-year mark,” he said. “I certainly enjoy working on the farm. It’s been a wonderful thing to do. I’ve never regretted taking an early retirement to return here to be closer to family and to keep the family farm and other businesses going.”
Elmer Natzke died in 1998.
The farm covers 420 acres with 150 under plow. Formerly a dairy operation, the Natzke’s now raise crops for market and for local farmers – particularly the neighboring Breitenmoser Farm.
“We sold the herd in 2006 because we just couldn’t find the person power to continue the dairy operation,” John noted.
Doris and Anita were able to attend the Wisconsin State Fair, where new Century Farms were recognized on Aug. 8. The Natzke Farm was among 132 Wisconsin farms to become Century Farms in 2017.