It’s a “tremendous” story of a woman taking charge when needed, one that needs to be heard, Donna Stahl said of her family’s Ness County Farm.
That story and those of six other farm families in the region will be told Sunday when the Salina Catholic Diocese presents the 2018 Monsignor John George Weber Century Farm Awards at its Catholic Rural Life Day starting at 3 p.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 210 W. 13th.
Bishopt Jerry Vincke, installed Aug. 22 in Salina, attended Rural Life Day, as well as Saturday’s seventh-annual Men’s Conference at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, 1805 Vine.
The century awards are presented by the diocese’s Rural Life Commission, whose purpose is to promote awareness of the customs and traditions of rural life and provide an opportunity for prayer, said Father Rich Daise, moderator of the commission and pastor at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Colby.
Weber, the award’s namesake, was a Victoria native who celebrated his first Solemn Mass in Park on June 5, 1943. In 1960, he was named executive secretary for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. He served many parishes and was papal chamberlain to Pope John XXIII in 1963 and domestic prelate in 1968. He retired in Salina and died at age 93 on July 1, 2010.
The Salina Diocese awards are presented each year in one of the four deaneries — east, east central, west central and west. Most of the awards are from the deanery in which the awards are presented each year.
“We move it each year to a different deanery so people don’t have to travel quite so far,” Daise said.
The awards are meant to recognize families who have either lived on or farmed the same ground for at least 100 years. They can own the land or be tenant farmers. Most of the families honored this year have been on the same land for longer than that, back to the 1800s, Daise said.
At least one family member must be a practicing Catholic within the diocese.
Families submit a history and photos of their farm, which will be published in The Register, the diocese newspaper, and will have about five minutes to read their story at the award presentation.
“Some of the stories about the family history are fascinating,” Daise said.
Stahl is 85 and lives on her own in Plainville, where she still helps on her husband’s family’s farm.
She thought the story of her family’s farm south of Bazine was worth sharing.
The farm was started by her grandparents, P.A. and Susan Narey.
“In the first place, my grandmother did not want to marry him. She had a beautiful sister and my grandfather wanted to marry her,” Stahl said.
“She got her wedding apparel, the sister ... and three times things went wrong, seriously,” Stahl said. “So she said, ‘Well, that’s an omen. I’m not marrying him.’
“But they wanted my grandfather, who was an educated Irishman, and someone in the family needed to marry him,” Stahl said.
“It was my grandmother. She learned to love him and respect him and raised a wonderful family,” Stahl said.
Her grandparents started the farm with a timber claim, a program similar to the Homestead Act in which the government would give 160 acres on the Great Plains free to those who planted a certain amount of trees.
Her grandfather was a stonemason by trade and did the “fancy work,” Stahl said, on the Ness County Bank, the four-story, 18,700 square foot limestone structure called the “Skyscraper of the Plains” built in 1890.
Her grandparents eventually moved to Holyrood so P.A. could get more work. He helped build churches in Odin, Dubuque and Ellinwood in Barton County.
However, he eventually contracted pneumonia from the limestone dust and died in 1906 at age 53, leaving Susan, then 41, with 10 children to raise. Stahl’s mother, Dorcas, was the youngest of the Narey children and was 1 when P.A. died.
“My grandmother would tell her all these things that went on in the family, and she remembered,” Stahl said.
“Back then, of course, there was no Social Security, there was nothing,” Stahl said. “How was she going to raise those children?”
Her grandmother had been raised on a farm, and took the children back to the Ness County homestead. She never remarried.
“It’s a tremendous story of a woman taking over and taking charge and raising this family,” Stahl said.
“My grandmother’s greatest fear was to be able to pay the taxes. And that hasn’t changed,” she said.
Stahl’s brother, William Cole, 90, and a cousin, Jerry Whipple, 82, eventually inherited the land, which is rented out.
She plans on attending Rural Life Day on Sunday, but said she wasn’t sure who will read her family’s story.
“I just felt that somebody needed to know this, so I hadn’t thought about any of that,” she said.