Tomorrow would have been my dad’s 94th birthday. He was a special man, kind and strong the product of a hard yet loved filled life. He started life as the second child of four in a farming family in Port Washington, Wisconsin. He knew even as a little boy that he wanted to grow up to be like his daddy, a dairy farmer, an honest man, a good worker, well respected and well liked in the area. He never really got to know his daddy, who died unexpectedly when my father was only seven years old, yet he did mostly reach his goal of becoming just like him. He never did become a dairy farmer, but for many years he raised crops, chickens, and pigs.
Dad’s life reminds me how fast the world spins. Born just a little over a year before the Great Depression started Dad would see the challenges of living with the economic stresses of being in a single parent home along with his three siblings when Grandma became a widow in 1935. He started working on neighbors’ farms when he was nine, just as the Fair Labor Standard Act was being passed. As a young man he’d join the Navy, ready to fight for his country in WWII. He served from 1946-1948.
When he returned home he found the woman who would be the love of his life, Rita Bichler. He and my mom married in 1950. Together they’d have six children. We were all raised on a farm they bought from my grandpa, Nic Bichler. For the next thirty-four years they’d farm, raise us kids, care for grandkids, and work, and boy, did Mom and Dad work. Along with farming full time, Dad also worked full time at the power plant in Port Washington and sold seed corn for Pioneer. I still treasure the memories of riding around in his old green pickup truck delivering seed corn with him. Every farmer knew my dad and he had stories and laughs to share with them all. I was so proud to be his little girl. Mom, along with all the farm work, caring for us kids, and watching grandkids, also kept the books for the seed corn sales, served on the parish council for our church, was on our school board, was a school lunch lady, helped lead my Girl Scout troop, hosted bible study groups, sang in the church choir, and helped with so many other events until cancer came in 1978 and began to slow her. In 1984 her journey ended. She and Dad had seen so much together; the growth of their family, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Farm Crisis, babies and deaths, love, joy, and sorrow. Then he was left to travel on without her physically by his side.
His journey would continue for thirty-six more years until July 13th, 2020. Six children, twelve grandchildren, and seven great-children are the reminders of this life that began more than nine decades ago on a little farm in a family speaking Luxembourgish and living a simple, God-fearing life. I don’t think my dad would have ever seen himself as any sort of hero or as someone who’d ever done anything special. He just did what he believed was right and what needed to be done. To me though, I am in some sense still that little girl who held his hand and looked up to see a hero. I suspect that my grandpa would have been proud of him too.
If you are someone who still has a father, mother, or any elder in your life who you care about, please take a moment to celebrate my father’s life by telling the person(s) in your life that you love them. Thanks!