Grandpa Joe’s wooden shoes are a reminder of a rich family heritage

Ron Hollenkamp operates the farm his grandfather, Joseph, Sr., established in 1900. He is shown in front of the 1920 barn with a pair of wooden shoes made by his grandfather.
Ron Hollenkamp operates the farm his grandfather, Joseph, Sr., established in 1900. He is shown in front of the 1920 barn with a pair of wooden shoes made by his grandfather.


By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Ron and Bea Hollenkamp have farmed the Hollenkamps’ home farm north of Freeport for 46 of the 113 years of its existence.

Ron’s grandparents, Joseph Hollenkamp, Sr. and his wife, Bernadine, established the farm in 1900, the year their son, Joseph, Jr. was born. Joe, Sr. died when Ron, the youngest of his family, was just 10 years old, so memories are sparse.

“Grandpa always wore wooden shoes,” said Ron. “He went barefoot in the shoes. He wore them until they wore out and still kept wearing them with newspaper or cardboard in the bottom.”

Ron still has one last pair of wooden shoes that he knows his grandpa made, sized for a young child.

Tools for making the shoes were lined up ready to use while his grandpa divided up a long log for shoes of different sizes.

“He usually used basswood for the shoes,” said Ron. “Now I wish I would have learned how to do that.”

Ron recalls that his grandpa had a long beard and he wore a pair of dress shoes on Sundays.

The older Hollenkamp siblings were Virgil, Leander, Marion and Sylvester. Leander lives on a farm south of the home place and Sylvester lives in St. Rosa.

Joe, Sr. lived in a 20-foot by 20-foot house on the farm while Ron grew up living in the original big house. Ron’s uncle, John, was not married, and lived with them after he had sold his own farm.

Recalling more childhood experiences, Ron said, “I spoke German when I was little, and had to learn English at school.”

When he first started school, Ron understood English enough to answer questions, but the answers were in German. This frustrated the teacher so much that Ron was sent home for another year, he said.

The Allis Chalmers tractor is the first one Ron recalls. He remembers making hay with slings, using three to a wagon to hoist the hay into the haymow.

“It’s a lot easier with the big bales now,” he said. “I use one or two a week.”

He also remembers the milking. “We milked about 25 Brown Swiss cows by hand, with three people milking,” he said. “I always liked to feed the calves with a pail.”

He recalls someone coming from the Dakotas to pick up vealer calves and pigs.

Ron left the farm in 1965, when he was drafted. His first taste of the Army was at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., followed by basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.

He completed his tour of duty at Fort Leonard Wood and returned to Freeport in 1968. He and Beatrice Brulla of Eden Valley were married soon after.

Ron’s dad had died the year Ron went into the Army, so when Ron got home he purchased the farm from the estate. The original house was bulldozed and a new home put up.

Ron and Bea raised four children on the farm: Brian of Grey Eagle, Lisa of Sauk Rapids, Jay of Freeport and Stacy of St. Cloud. Six grandchildren are the pride and delight of the Hollenkamps.

Ron worked at the Great Northern Railroad shops in Waite Park for 18 years, until they closed. He then went to work in food service at the VA hospital in St. Cloud, just retiring from there in January.

Although none of the original buildings still stand, the barn, built in 1920, is approaching its centennial.

Corn, alfalfa and soybeans are still grown on the farm. The Hollenkamps have five head of beef cattle, chickens and geese.

Looking to future possibilities, Ron said, “The boys would like to take over the farm.”

Ron enjoys fishing most, going anywhere the panfish are biting.

“I usually go myself, but I sometimes go with my son-in-law Scott or my brother Sylvester,” he said.

Since retiring, there is time for more fishing. He also goes fly fishing for panfish.

The Hollenkamps will receive a sign recognizing their Century Farm at the Stearns County Fair, which runs from July 31-Aug. 4.

“Not too many people make it,” Ron said. “It’s quite an accomplishment.”

For now, there is still farm work to do. “There are trees to cut up from the storms,” he said. “There is always something to do.”