Bohl farm turns 100
The ancestors of John and Alice Bohl came with a wave of German immigrants from Russia in the late 1800s to establish homesteads in the Dakota Territory.
Peter Bohl, John’s great-grandfather, settled with his family in Morton County. His family had emigrated from Ukraine. Some of his children moved and settled in other parts of the state when they grew up. Nicholas Bohl, John’s grandfather, settled in Pierce County’s Jefferson Township, southwest of Rugby.
“My grandfather established his farm in 1921,” John Bohl said. Alice nodded, adding, “The contract for deed said, ‘Nicholas Bohl, November of 1921’.”
Nicholas and his wife, Magdalena Burkhard Bohl, had nine children. Nicholas would divide his farmland amongst his four sons.
“My grandpa was farming south of (St. John) Blumenfeld Church, about 12 miles south,” John said. “That’s the home place. The oldest was Xavier, then Pete, then Jack (Jacob) then Andrew, my dad. Grandpa bought farms for all of them. He bought one for Pete, west of here a couple of miles, then Jack stayed at his place. First, my dad stayed there, then he switched with Jack because he wanted to raise cattle. So, they switched and raised cattle, Jack and Dad.”
“We had grain farming and cattle,” John said of his family farm. “We had wheat, oats, barley and flax sometimes.”
The Bohls raised dairy cattle.
“Dad married Anna Garman. There were three Garmans married to three Bohls,” John added, noting the families had known each other from the Balta area.
John went to the Brazil School, a one-room country school. After finishing at Brazil School, John said he “went right to work on the farm. My dad needed me.”
“I’m the only son in the family. I had four sisters, but one of them died,” John added.
John remembered using horses to cultivate cornfields when he was young. “I hated that. I asked my dad to get a tractor,” he said. “Later, he got a tractor.”
John would eventually take over his father’s farm.
In 1958, Andrew and Magdalena celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a dinner dance at Balta. It was there John met Alice Eisenzimmer, New Rockford, who had attended with her father and brother to provide music for the event.
John and Alice married in 1960. They settled in the white clapboard house where John had grown up, where they reared their children, Curtis and Carla. John and Alice still live in the home. A matching white barn and outbuildings stand nearby, along with a structure formerly used as a milking parlor. “The house has been added onto, but it’s the house John’s dad built,” Alice said.
“When we got married sixty years ago, they used to milk with buckets. They had milking machines. But I learned how to milk by hand, too,” Alice said.
Carla Bohl Zunich, who came from Thompson with her daughter, Callie to visit her parents, remembered, “There was always something to do, whether it was driving a grain truck or helping to milk cows. Then, they would plant new trees, so I would help with the trees and weed the trees, or work in the garden,” she said. I would help my mom. When we played, we made dirt roads in the garden. I spent many hours up in the hayloft with the kitties.”
“I didn’t know anything else at the time. That was all I knew,” Zunich said of farm life. “I probably started driving earlier than most kids.”
“I put her in a car with a straight stick shift,” Alice Boh said, smiling.
“It was an old International pick up in the middle of a hay field. There was nothing to hit,” Zunich laughed.
Both Zunich and her brother, Curtis, attended Little Flower Catholic School and Rugby High School.
Alice said over the years the family “got more and more cows. Then, when Curtis came home from college, he wanted to milk. Then, we added a milking parlor.”
Curtis Bohl had studied farm and ranch management at Bismarck State College. He had planned to take over the family farm. Zunich studied business at the University of North Dakota, married her husband, Brent and settled in Thompson with their two daughters, Callie and Ciara.
As the John Bohl Farm neared its 100th year, challenges and tragedy came. First, the creamery that bought and processed the Bohls’ milk closed. “It was the oil boom and they couldn’t find drivers,” John said.
Then, in 2019, Curtis Bohl was killed in a farm machinery accident.
The Bohls sold their cattle and rented out their land for farming.
But the couple remains at their home place, keeping mementos and fond memories from a life of farming. They have a plaque awarded in 1993 by the Pierce County Soil Conservation District in recognition of their “responsible farming practices.”
The award came at the same time the Bohls received an aerial photo of their farmstead. The photo hangs framed in their home. Palm fronds braided by Curtis Bohl ring the photo. “He got those on Palm Sunday,” Alice Bohl said. “He would make little tiny braids with tweezers.”
“I’ve always liked to milk,” Alice Bohl said. “We milked cows at about 6 a.m. and at 6 p.m.”
“And I have chickens. I take care of my chickens and my garden. We have fresh eggs all the time,” Alice said. “I baked an angel food cake with fresh eggs,” Alice added, taking a cake from her refrigerator. “This is Charles Repnow’s recipe.”
Carla smiled. “I was telling Callie today’s the start of deer hunting season, so even when I was in college and even after I was married, I would come home to help with chores during hunting weekend so Curtis could go hunting with his cousins. So, yes, there’s always something to do when it comes to farming.”