Work hard, play hard: Wurch family is a team

Three generations have called this Century Farm home

-Messenger photo by Lori Berglund
John and Vivian Wurch stand near a granite slab that was pulled from the fields and now welcomes visitors to their farm.

For Iowa farm kids, it’s a rite of passage as familiar as walking beans or baling hay.

Spring or fall, or even in between, there are few farm kids around who have not spent hours in the field just “picking up rock.”

Come to think of it, picking up rock has more staying power than either walking beans — decades since that happened — or baling hay, which also isn’t what it used to be back in the day.

It took years of digging, and finally one good afternoon with a backhoe, to pry a monumental scrap of glacier from the John and Vivian Wurch farm east of Webster City.

“We didn’t know it was that big,” said Vivian Wurch, looking back on the long process of unearthing the stunning piece of granite that now serves as a welcoming piece of art for the couple’s century farm.

Fitting perhaps, that a slab of rock working its way to the surface for thousands of years would serve to honor a family farm a century in the making.

John Wurch, who was born and raised on the farm, is the third generation to call it home. The couple raised two daughters on this tidy farm, and now have four grandsons who all return to lend a hand.

John’s sister and her husband, Dorothy and Jim Sargent, also maintain part ownership in the century farm. It was John and Dorothy’s grandparents who first came to Iowa from Illinois in 1901. Emil and Marie (Mary) Wurch had been married about six years and were looking for a new opportunity.

“He had been working in a coal mine in Illinois and I guess he decided he would rather farm than work in a coal mine,” John Wurch said with a grin.

Originally, the couple settled on a rented farm near Highview. It wasn’t until 1921 that the couple was able to purchase 160 acres in Independence Township. They paid $325 per acre.

The Great Depression was less than a decade away, but sometimes it’s best not to know what’s coming.

John’s parents, William and Evelyn Wurch, would follow in Emil and Marie’s footsteps on this same farm. John Wurch can still remember his elder generation farming with horses, picking corn by hand, and working hard every day.

Farming methods may have changed, but the lesson of hard work is something that John and Vivian made sure to pass on to their daughters, Kerri and Amy.

“They helped a lot on the farm,” John Wurch said. “They learned how to work and they still know how to work.”

While earlier generations kept the farm through the hardships of the Great Depression and the shortages of World War II, it would fall to John and Vivian Wurch to persevere during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s.

“I don’t even want to tell you the sad stories,” said John Wurch, known in the neighborhood for his cheerful nature.

But there is one story from those times the couple shares. “We had just bought another farm near Blairsburg and we didn’t know if we’d make it,” Vivian Wurch said.

Through this time, they shared the friendship of a good banker. Lucien S. (Bud) Wood was president of the former Farmers National Bank in Webster City. John and Vivian were planning to buy a farm closer to their own when the owner of the Blairsburg farm approached them. They decided to talk it over with Wood before making a decision.

“I talked to Bud Wood, and he said, ‘I’ll take you on a plane tour of both of the places,'” John Wurch recalled.

Wood wouldn’t tell them what to do, but after seeing both farms from the sky, he said, “If I were you, and you can get the Blairsburg place for a certain price, that’s the one I’d buy.”

It was good advice, and an enduring example of a business relationship that went beyond business to fairness and friendship.

Working with people you can respect and trust are the good memories to keep from the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, and it’s those stories that John and Vivian Wurch will pass down to generations that will, no doubt, face their own challenges.

These days, both of their daughters are married with kids of their own. And it’s with great pride that John and Vivian Wurch note that all of the grandkids enjoy being an active part of the farm.

Kerri’s sons, Max and Sam Peterson, and Amy’s sons, Jackson and Joe Zehr, return often to help out and work. “They all like to come and work on the farm, that’s for sure,” Vivian Wurch said.

As for John, he has one piece of advice for his grandsons, or any man who wants to farm, for that matter. “If you want to farm, get married to a good woman,” he said, “one that has an education.”

John and Vivian Wurch, who grew up on a farm near Kamrar in Hamilton County, have always been a team on the farm. “I’ve done everything. I’ve done the combining; the only thing I haven’t done is the planting,” Vivian Wurch said.

“We started with just a small combine,” she said. “In fact, we started picking corn without a cab, and then we got our first combine, and we kept working up.”

Vivian also maintained an off-farm job for most years of their marriage. She worked for Northwestern Bell in Webster City, and at one time worked days on the farm and then worked nights at Farm Journal, talking to farmers on the phone.

In between her jobs and farm work, Vivian also put the meals on the table — and that’s a job that never ends. “I’m still making meals,” she said with a smile. “I’ve got grandkids here all the time and I’m still cooking.”


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