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Farm Girl – MaryAnn (Kack) Blanchette – horses and heartache

Last week we met MaryAnn (Kack) Blanchette, born June 19, 1931, on the family farm south of Marshall, and began learning about her life growing up on that farm.

MaryAnn’s father, Theodore Kack, farmed with horses into the late 1940’s. He loved his big, Belgian workhorses. He ran a stud service, offering his prize Belgian stallion, “Governor,” and two others as sires for farmers interested in breeding their mares to increase their herds.

MaryAnn explained that part of their operation.

“[Belgians] were pretty much the workhorse of the country around this area. We had a big truck and he could put two of them in. Then he would go to the farm place. He had books that we had to keep records in (tracking each foal’s lineage and ownership). And us kids used to help with that — keeping the books straight.”

MaryAnn remembered the best part of her dad’s stud service was an annual party he hosted for his customers. He reserved the town hall in the tiny community of Dudley, 3 miles east of their farm on the railroad spur line to Milroy.

She described the party as a social event that expanded beyond her dad’s customers to neighbors as well.

“My dad had customers and once a year he’d throw a party at the town hall. We’d have a meal and then a dance. The Goblisch boys would play music and my dad would put on his free party for his customers in the town hall. Of course, everybody — a lot of people — came anyway.”

As MaryAnn grew older, her farm chores expanded.

She chuckled as she explained, “Well, I had to milk cows by hand. We had at least 10, which was quite a few. We’d have to milk [twice a day]. We had a separator. We had to put the cream in a cream can. Of course, the milk went, as they used to say, as slop for the hogs.”

MaryAnn described their system for chilling the cream cans.

“Well, there was a tank of water and we’d just put it in there. At our place, we already had the running water, so it would kind of run through the tank where the cream cans sat.”

Once they had filled enough cream cans, they hauled them in their ’39 Chevy sedan to a creamery in Marshall on East Main Street across from where the Casey’s is located today.

MaryAnn’s dad raised multiple crops for market and to feed his livestock.

“Oh, we had corn and oats and flax. Flax was a big thing during WWII because they used the straw for parachute packing and then the seed — I guess they got oil out of it. And alfalfa, of course, we had to have to feed the cattle and the horses. And down by Lake Marshall — it was all prairie — they’d rent out like a 100 acres to each farmer. [W]e’d make wild hay out of that. We had to put it in a hayrack and take it home.”

Back at their farm, they used heavy ropes, pulleys, and slings to hoist the piles of loose hay they’d harvested from the Lake Marshall prairie up into the barn’s haymow.

MaryAnn was too young to remember the Great Depression’s dry years, but her dad told her about farming Lake Marshall when it went dry.

“When it was that dry, Lake Marshall was dry and the farmers picked up the fish; left some of them out there for fertilizer; and the rest they picked up and threw them on their fields as fertilizer. I think about three years they farmed it. And then it started to rain and that was the end of it.”

She remembered her childhood during the late Depression as having plenty of food from the garden and livestock, but not much else.

“We didn’t buy new things — usually it was hand-me-downs. You just would do with what you had. I mean there was just no choice. We didn’t need to go to town very often. There would be flour and sugar in a 50 pound bag and the coffee and a few things like that.”

The tiny town of Dudley provided MaryAnn, her brother, and their friends childhood distractions during the late ’30s and early ’40s.

“There used to be a big elevator there and they had a convenience store and gas station. Everybody had to go to Dudley on Friday night and they showed free movies on the side of the elevator.”

MaryAnn explained that Dudley was a destination in other ways as well.

“[A] bunch of neighborhood kids — Hoflock kids, Voss’s, Quinell, Giefer — would ride our bikes down to Dudley. It was 3 miles and then we’d have to ride home. Sometimes we’d go home in the dark. Nobody thought anything of it. Once in a while one of those places may have a ball game, going on.”

Then MaryAnn lost her mom.

“She was sick for several years before. We’d have to call the priest and he’d come out and give her last rites several times. I don’t know for how many years — maybe 2-3 years — he was kind of a regular at our house. She passed away when I was eleven, so then I had to learn — I knew how to do some cooking — but I had to learn how to keep house and stuff in a big hurry.”

MaryAnn lost her mom when she was still a child and her life changed in so many ways.

I welcome your participation in and ideas about our exploration of prairie lives. You may reach me at prairieview pressllc@gmail.com.

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