Century farm reflects changes in farming

Published 7:58 am Monday, August 14, 2017

When Joseph Mueller established his farm just outside of Austin in 1917, the world was at war, street cars were in use for the first time in San Francisco, and “K-K-K-Katy” and “For Me and My Gal,” were the popular tunes of the day.

And his daughter, Margaret, was a year old.

While many generations that followed probably haven’t heard “K-K-K-Katy,” Margaret and the farm are still with us.

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And while Margaret Mueller Epley, 101, no longer lives the farm life, her memories of her days on the farm are still vivid. The Minnesota State Fair has recognized that heritage with a Century Farm honor, presented to Margaret and her family at the Pride of Mower County event, held at the opening of the Mower County Fair.

Her father, Joseph, met Margaret’s mother, while both lived in Milwaukee, Wis. Epley said they most likely met at church.

As it turned out, it was her mother who came to southeastern Minnesota first, to keep house for her brother, a Dexter, Minnesota, doctor.

“She kept house for him until she and Joseph were married,” said Margaret’s daughter, Mary Jo McKinney.

Joseph farmed 160 acres about five miles southeast of Austin, on a pretty acreage that “was always well-kept,” said another one of Margaret’s daughters, Darlene Pater. Richard Epley, Margaret’s oldest son, said the farm had a dairy operation, “and chickens, hogs, horses,” he said. “They had a little bit of everything then.”

Margaret, the youngest of five siblings, grew up in simpler times. As she sat in her room at St. Marks Living, she recalled walking to school in the midst of a blizzard.

“Her sister kept her going and told her not to stop; otherwise, she would have frozen to death,” said McKinney, who added a neighbor then found them and gave them shelter.

Farming communities often harvested hay together; in the Enterprise area where the Muellers and Epleys lived, several farmers, including the Muellers, jointly purchased a thresher and rotated it from one farm to the next, with everyone pitching in. Margaret could remember the gatherings, which included women working in the field as well.

“We helped with everything,” she said, whether it was threshing or other chores.

Margaret married Earl Epley in 1938. They moved to their own acreage just north of the family farm. Margaret and Earl raised six children, and worked side by side. She at one point had 35 cats on the property, said Pater.

The Mueller farm remained the heartbeat of the family for many years. After Joseph died, their son, Adolph, and his sister, Cecelia, ran the farm. Their mother continued to live with them until her death in the 1960s.

Pater can remember Adolph and his sister, notIng how kind they were.

“We’d go to the farm and look in his boots,” said Pater. “At Christmas, he would hide candy in them.”

After Adolph and Cecelia were gone, the Epley sons joined together to operate the farm, along with their cousin, Gary Anderson. Together they actively farmed the property until about four years ago. Today, the land is rented out, Richard said.

“There are good memories there,” said Richard. “Picnics, get-togethers.” Mary Jo added the Muellers had a huge garden out of which much canning was done.

“And remember grandma’s homemade bread!” said McKinney.

“And Easter egg hunts,” said Pater.

“And, if you mowed the lawn there, you always had to have a bonnet on — Grandma said,” Pater said with a grin.