The State Farm — the Banks connection

Occasionally, folks will ask how I find the stories for this column. Sometimes my own experiences lead me to dig more deeply into a story. Sometimes I rely on persons willing to share their experiences after I do a presentation. But often I stumble onto something interesting when researching another, unrelated story.

A few years ago I interviewed Marian Pagel about growing up on a farm west of Marshall and her subsequent teaching career while raising a family and helping her husband, Duane, farm in the same area. After the interview, we continued talking about the region and Duane suggested I contact Perry and Marquita Banks about the State Farm.

I grew up in Marshall, but had never heard of the State Farm. I asked Jennifer Andries, the Lyon County Museum Director, about the State Farm. She explained that O.C. Gregg had owned the farm in the late 1800’s, a farm he and his wife, Lottie, named the Coteau Farm. His farm became a state-sponsored agricultural experiment station in the 1880s. He later organized a series of Farmers’ Institutes across the state. This seemed like an intriguing story of Lyon County influencing agriculture state-wide.

That is why I ended up at Perry and Marquita Banks’ home west of Lynd to learn more about their life together and asking them to educate me about Mr. O.C. Gregg and the State Farm.

Perry Banks was born in November 1927 on the family farm west of Lynd. His Aunt Gertrude assisted his mom with his birth. Marquita (Christianson) Banks was born in October 1937 in Clarkfield and grew up on her family farm in rural Clarkfield.

Perry chuckled as he explained how a young man from rural Lynd linked up with a young woman from rural Clarkfield.

“Marquita had a roommate and they lived together with a nice lady that we both knew. She decided that I was getting too darn old and needed to get engaged. She decided to get [us] together and Marquita can finish this story.”

Marquita smiled as she accepted Perry’s hand-off and continued the story.

“I came to Marshall to teach Home Economics in 1959 and, of course, you need a place to room or have an apartment. Mr. Frye, the wonderful Superintendent, knew that this lady, Mrs. Ferguson, had an apartment in her home near the school and he would help her get roomers for her apartment. She usually had young, single gals because Marshall did not hire married women, at the time, in the school district. I lived in her apartment for the four years that I was teaching there. She was called “The Matchmaker” because she was always trying to match (Marquita chuckled) her single teachers up with some gentleman in the community.”

Perry cut in on the story to add, “Yeah, she got Louis Wewetzer, my classmate, a wife that way.”

Marquita clarified Mrs. Ferguson’s role before continuing her and Perry’s “Meet Cute” story.

“She introduced people. That’s what it meant. I needed to have some information for a bridal shower I was doing for a high school friend and she knew ‘just the person who could help you.’ That was Mrs. Banks because Mrs. Banks did a lot of work with emceeing showers and so forth. So, we had to go out to the Banks farm against my will. That’s how we met.”

She explained the matchmaking extended further.

“The first two years I lived with the Phy Ed teacher and then she went back to grad school. The last two years I lived with the Librarian and English teacher, who eventually married Perry’s brother and we farmed together all these years until she died of cancer in ’87.”

Turning back to the story of the State Farm, Perry explained that his grandfather, Will Banks, grew up on an Iowa farm before moving to and working in California for a time. He met and married a woman from New Zealand before returning to Iowa where he and his spouse, Kathryn, farmed and began raising a family.

Marquita picked up the story, explaining that Will Banks’ mom was a Nicholson and that members of her family had moved in Lynd in 1901 to open a lumber yard and farm. Will and Kathryn Banks decided to follow the Nicholson’s to Lynd in 1909.

She explained, “That was the couple that bought O.C. Gregg’s property, what they, at that time called the State Farm. It was apparently well known by that term.”

Perry added, “It was still called the State Farm when I was growing up.”

Marquita explained that Perry’s parents, Charles and Edith Banks, later lived in a second home on the State Farm.

“He was born at The Cottage. That’s what they referred to the home where he and his family grew up. It was O.C. Gregg and Lottie’s cottage in the latter years of their life here. The big farmhouse was on the corner. But the next place — they called this building The Cottage or The Bungalow. O.C. had built that for his farm manager. After he retired and sold the farm, he was still going to live there and added sixteen more feet onto this house. But that’s where Perry grew up with his family; his mother and father and his siblings.”

Before the Banks family made the Coteau Farm their own, however, C.O. and Lottie Gregg made the place well-known locally and state-wide.

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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