by Dennis Dalman
One night 102 years ago, George I. Warnert was a lonesome soldier far from home, missing his family and friends and the farm he loved so much just a stone’s throw from St. Joseph. That farm, now owned by George I. Warnert’s grandson, has recently been honored as a Minnesota “Century Farm.”
On the night of Jan. 19, 1919, Warnert wrote a letter in a French barn to a friend back home, John C. Crever of St. Joseph.
“Dear Friend: Tonight, while up in a barn loft, where I sleep on some hay, I will, by the light of a candle, write you a letter to let you know that I have not forgotten you and the dearly beloved town of St. Joseph where I spent my childhood days . . .”
He closed his letter with these words:
“After being here I realize that home is in the greatest and most civilized nation and the nation to which the world is looking. So, by God’s aid, I hope once more to get back to the old homestead of St. Joseph in the state I love so well – old Minnesota.”
Warnert, born in 1890 and one of 14 children, did make it home safe and sound and continued farming on the land homesteaded by his father. This land was just northeast of the city of St. Joseph in St. Wendel Township.
Warnert and his wife, Mildred, had four children, including a son, Urban, who eventually owned the farm. Urban and his wife, Frances, farmed for many years and also had four children, one of which (Urban, Jr.) now owns the farm with his wife, Mary Kay.
Recently, Urban and Mary Kay talked about their years on and off the Warnert Century Farm. Sitting in the kitchen of their home that is now undergoing major remodeling, the Warnerts shared many stories of the past as young beef cattle romped and frolicked in a pen visible from the window.
The old house on the property was torn down when Urban’s parents decided to build a new house in the 1970s, the one now being remodeled.
Throughout the farm’s long history, the uses of the land varied from time to time: hog-raising, milk cows, chickens, corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat, hay, oats, potatoes, beef cattle.
The Warnerts now mainly just raise beef cattle and grow hay and grains, some of which they sell. Recently, a huge shipment of their organic hay went all the way to New York, courtesy of Brenny Transportation of St. Joseph.
“Years ago, this farm was a typical dairy farm, 112 acres with cows, hogs, chickens and of course herds of cats and dogs,” Urban said. “Grandpa mainly raised just hogs.”
Like his grandfather, Urban also served in the military in Europe. In the late 1970s to early 80s, he was a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. He and his wife spent some years in Germany where Urban’s military occupational specialty was welding. During their time in Germany, Mary Kay worked at a dental clinic and also as a college registrar for soldiers.
Urban and Mary Kay Pirkl were high-school sweethearts; they met while attending Apollo High School in St. Cloud. After their marriage, while serving in Germany, they had their first child, son Mark. After moving back to the St. Joseph farm, where Urban grew up, Mary Kay gave birth to twins, a girl named Abby, a boy named Abraham. Their last child, Christine, was born in 1986. All the children are grown and doing fine.
Throughout the years, Urban often took on other jobs to supplement the family’s income, jobs such as truck driving and as a welder for seven years at a Waite Park company known as D.C.I.
Decades of hard physical work went into the Warnert farm, and there were some tough breaks. Three times the farm buildings or home were struck by lightning. Once, not too many years ago, a fire destroyed their stored hay. Years ago, Mary Kay was severely injured when a cow with its calves suddenly attacked her, stomping on her and causing broken ribs and a face that turned completely black-and-blue. But despite all the hard work, the occasional hardships and some setbacks, the farm was a good stable place to raise four generations of families.
The Warnerts are proud that their old farm with so much history, sustaining so many lives through more than 100 years, has been honored as a Century Farm.
The “Century Farm” designation program began in 1976 to honor farms of 50 acres or more that have been under continuous family ownership for at least 100 years.
The honorees receive a commemorative sign they can display on their land and a certificate signed by the Minnesota governor and the presidents of the State Fair Board and the Farm Bureau.
Since 1976, there have been nearly 11,000 Minnesota farms so honored. This year there are 124 that were recognized by the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota State Fair Board. Besides the Warnert farm, there are five others in Stearns County – farms near Avon, Eden Valley, Kimball, Melrose and Paynesville. There is also one in Benton County, in rural Sauk Rapids.