Update time. In about two weeks a dedication is being held at the Otis Farm Audubon Sanctuary for the newly weatherized old barn, the work financed in part by my parents, who are being honored at the dedication. Sadly, the same weekend is the memorial for Dad's sister, leaving him the last one in the family in that generation (descended from his mother, that is - remember she had 9 brothers and sisters). There will be a family reunion the same weekend.
Guests to the sanctuary are going to be able to visit educational displays that track the evolution of man's attitude toward nature, from Native Americans, to early settlers, to sodbusters/homesteaders like my great-great-great grandpa Otis who settled the farm, to early conservation pioneers like Uncle Bob who tried to return the land to health, to modern land management ideas. Dad is contributing all kinds of things he inherited from Uncle Bob for the "museum" and it is giving him great pleasure to be able to do this in the waning of his own life. The gorgeous cedar-ribbed Old Town canoe will be returned to the farm and hung in a place of honor in the barn. All is good.
Kimby, thanks for that update. Wow, it's really moving to think that such a piece of history is being brought forward into the present. It's awful to think that it could so easily have been the site of a housing development or a mall instead, with future generations completely unaware of what would have been lost.
And I'll close for now with some of my Dad's words on the subject:
As I wind up these memoirs, I would like to express how much my family is pleased and impressed by the progress being shown at the Otis Sanctuary. We belong to and help quite a few environmental groups, but nothing tops the joy of contributing to a smaller start-up group where you can see and feel the results of your support. The Otis farm was so much a part of Harold's and my growing up, and Uncle Bob was such a large part of it too. Sixty-five years have passed since Harold and I were spending all of our free time at the farm. We never saw Trumpeter Swans, sand hill cranes or river otters, and Canada geese were a rarity. Now, the spotting of these and other wildlife is a real thrill. We hope and expect the future of the Otis Sanctuary is as successful and satisfying as its start would indicate.
This is a special thread, Kimby, given that it is part of your personal history and your family home lives on as a sanctuary, to be enjoyed by many. Your dad writes well, simply and honestly. I loved the photos of the boat, the barn…all tell the rather remarkable story of your family.
What wonderful pictures, and what a wonderful thread. My own family's farm in Ohio was in many ways so much like this. We didn't take too many pictures back when I was a little kid. Too busy working hard, maybe too expensive, too. I don't really feel all that sad about it because I do take my kids to do some of the great things we did such as picking berries and I think it is more the experiences that matter most.
My great uncle and his wife still live on our old family farm, but a lot is different now. As you might imagine, he's gotten pretty old now, and keeping up with things just got to be too much. The big old barn, which I would guess to be at least twice the size of that one, has fallen in. On the other hand, he has saved a lot of neat things like the old wood cook stove I remember my great-grandmother cooking on when I was young.
Someday, all the family farms will be gone and a way of life will be mostly forgotten.
The beauty of the Otis Farm Sanctuary is that the land won't be subdivided and covered with McMansions, and the farm buildings are being maintained, though the farm itself is going back to nature. The Audubon Society will be telling the story of homesteading and sod-busting as part of their interpretation of man's interactions with the land, from Native Americans to present day conservation organizations.
BTW, it is my paternal grandmother's family farm, and though my Dad spent a lot of time there as a boy and young man, I have never lived there and have made relatively few visits to the farm, mostly in recent years. But as my parents age into their late 80's, I envision the sanctuary as a place to honor their memories.
So funny to see this just now. Recently brought to my attention my younger daughter doesn't know how to make a pie crust. As I plan to remedy that this weekend, it comes to mind how many of the old ways she's never seen. She's never been to the family farm since old enough to recall it. I did teach her to crochet and cross stitch, but have never got round to teaching her tatting. Although I have done a little canning and jam making over the years, she says she does not recall helping with any of it, and I fear she may be correct. Especially in more recent years, I haven't done anything like that to speak of. With renovation on my house going on, I didn't have time for a big kitchen garden anymore. I look around and none of the neighbors have them any longer, either. We get much too busy, and it has become so much easier to just buy from the bakery or off the shelves. Such a shame. I don't even know where my grandmother's book of canning and pickling recipes has got off to and will have to track it down.
Funny you should mention pies, gertie. My grandmother (who grew up on the Otis farm) became a pie baker when she and my grandfather (who grew up on a neighboring farm) moved their young family during the depression to Miami where he could get work as a carpenter on the Breakers Hotel. The family lived in a tent for several years, and Grandma baked pies in a wood-fired oven and delivered them around Miami. When they returned to Michigan, they bought a 3 story house and opened a pie bakery in the basement. They had a commercial oven with rotating trays that could bake dozens of pies at a time, and we kids loved poking around in the pie bakery when we went to Grandma's for Christmas every year. We'd take Dixie cups and dip into the 5 gallon pails of pie filling when no one was looking!
The Otis Farm Education Center in the barn was dedicated on August 21st. Mom and Dad drove as far as the Chicago suburbs where they were met by my sister who drove with them around Chicago to Michigan for the weekend. They were honored for their contributions to the education center, both monetary and artifacts. The next day, a memorial celebration was held for Dad's older sister, and her ashes were buried in the family plot at the nearby cemetery. Dad is the last one left in his nuclear family, though he still has some cousins.
(Good thing they held the dedication when they did. A week later Dad was in the hospital with pneumonia and stayed there 6 days! He's making a good recovery, and will probably be back at the Otis farm before too long. But someone else will have to do the driving. Chicago expressways are too scary when you're 88!)
Some people are scared of urban expressways at any age.
It's great that your father was there, Kimby. I have been watching my own extended family shrink over the years, and even though there are new generations on most branches, I feel that most of the family history has already been lost, as I am one of the only people left who knows some of the stories from the past, and I don't really know all that much. I was really shocked when my nephew visited last year and bombarded me with all sorts of questions about the family history, because he said his father (my brother) had never told him anything at all.
Post by bixaorellana on Sept 13, 2010 15:04:47 GMT
Kimby, it's wonderful that your dad was able to be at the Education Center dedication, not only for him, but for the organizers of the event.
So true, Kerouac, about how family history slips away unnoticed. I casually mentioned something to my son one day and he countered with, "You never told me that!" Well, it wasn't anything I withheld, but something inconsequential that with the passage of time has become "family history".
So much of the Otis family history would be lost if it weren't documented in a large leatherbound book called A Genealogical and Historical Memoir of the Otis Family in America, published in 1924 by William A. Otis. My Grandmother was listed in it, but none of her offspring, since once she married she was no longer an Otis.
There's a picture of the Otis Family taken in 1910 before Uncle Bob, the youngest, was born.
My grandmother is in the back row, second from right. She was about 21 years old at the time.
A story about my grandma who grew up on the Otis Farm:
As a young lady she was courted by a man named George who wanted to marry her and move to California. Though in love with the young man, Grandma knew that she could not be happy so far from her family. In those days when you moved to California you might never see the folks at home again.
So she turned him down and married my grandfather, who had grown up on a neighboring farm and whose cousin was about to marry Grandma's younger sister. The two couples were wed in a double wedding in 1913, and both couples settled down within a short buggy ride of the family farm.
BTW, Grandma was a teacher in the rural school and Grandpa was one of her students! He was several years older than she, but due to his farm responsibilities it took him many years to complete his education, whereas she had finished school and teacher training and was already teaching by the time he was able to finish high school.
Postscript: Many years later, after she and Grandpa had 5 children and raised 4 to adulthood, after moving from the farm to a tent in Miami during the depression, after moving back to Michigan and buying a house in town and starting up the pie bakery, after losing her husband in 1958 and living as a widow for most of the years I knew her, Grandma was visited in the old folks home by a gentleman named George. The story of her old love was brought to my attention for the first time. She died a year or two later in 1980 at the age of 91.
Dad is talking about making another gift to the Sanctuary so they can finish the Education Center. (We don't know if he forgot that he already made a big gift, or if he intends to make a 2nd gift. Either way, we're all for it.)
My sisters and I will be participants in a matching gift challenge to our Otis cousins to fund the electrical and lighting budget.
It would be good to get the Center finished before the manager makes a career move that might take him away from the Otis Farm. That would be a huge loss to the Sanctuary, but non-profit organizations typically see a lot of staff turnover.
There is talk of another reunion/fund drive next summer. My sister will drive up and get my parents for the trip over. Dad still isn't driving since his hospitalization. (Well, except for his "bobcat" skid-loader. That doesn't count!)
This lean-to annex on the barn - entered from under the onion crates - will be used for educational exhibits someday. Much of the stuff on display will be things donated by my dad.
BTW, at one point, in an excess of green zeal, there was a plan to use this space for composting toilets. Fortunately, it has been decided to use porta-potties near the parking lot instead. This inside real estate is far too valuable as education space to be used for toilets.
You can see the new flooring that was installed by my cousin Mike. (The roof had to be replaced before the flooring was ruined, since it was installed before the roof was finished.)