Marion’s own Ken Richardson passed away September 18th, 2023. He was 94 years old. We were fortunate enough to speak with him a couple of years back and learn a little bit about his story. His story carries with it themes similar to the stories of others from his generation – the greatest generation: family farming, military service, service to the community. He shared stories of simpler times, but certainly not easier times. Ken will be missed by many, including those at the Marion VFW, where he was a member for the last 67 years. This is his story as told in April of 2021.
[Original Article as it appeared in the April 2nd, 2021 edition of the Marion Press]
The youngest of Andrew and Pearl Richardson’s nine children, Ken Richardson has lived an extraordinary life.
Born in 1928, he’s seen farm life change from the horse and plow to modern equipment; he’s seen the changes in automobiles – from the ’36 Chevrolet he grew up with, to today’s modern vehicles. From listening to ballgames and Joe Louis fights on the radio – and using a party line telephone – to streaming modern sporting events through a cell phone.
He’s been through the ups and downs of life, but all in all, it’s been a good life.
We caught up with Ken recently at the family farm east of Marion. He shared with us his memories of life on the farm, life in the Richardson family, and life in Marion. He shared with us his story. It’s a story of a man who’s much more than just another face in the crowd.
GROWING UP ON THE RICHARDSON FARM IN THE ‘30s and ‘40s
My dad always kept us busy. There was corn to plant or stones to pick. Our corn was always planted in check rows so we could cultivate it both ways. We planted our corn with a hand planter.
My dad always had a sawmill. If he wasn’t sawing lumber at our farm, he would move it to someone else’s land. He would saw the wood to build a barn for the local farmers. He sawed the lumber for my brother Gerald’s barn, the Moomey’s barn, and Vern Williams’ barn. After my dad sawed the lumber, the neighbors would get together and have a barn raising.
We had 12 cows to milk by hand. After milking the cows, we took the cows to the pasture which was on the Grover Place. The Grover Place was a half mile south on the County Line Road between Clare and Osceola County. My brother, Ray, and I would walk the cows to the pasture every morning and night for most of the summer. We walked the half mile barefoot. In the fall, when the frost was on the ground in the morning, we would warm our feet by walking in the cow poop. It took it some time to work! We had a dog named Tippy. When we got to the pasture, we would say, “Tippy, go get the cows!” And he would bring the cows up for us.
We had a Shetland pony named Jim – he was fun to ride if you could catch him. We pastured the cows in the summer, but in the winter we kept the cows in the barn. We had to clean the manure out of the barn in the winter. We had to load the manure by hand onto the spreader or the sleigh and pitch it off by hand. We fed the cows corn silage out of the silo, or hay from our mow at the top of the barn. We let the cows out two at a time to get water from the tank. We had to pump their water by hand. After watering the cows and horse, then it was time to milk the cows. We milked by hand and ran the milk through the cream separator to pull out the cream. After milking then we would go into the house for supper. The next morning, we did it all over again.
In the winter, we cleaned snow out of the driveway with shovels and a sleigh. We would haul the snow to the field and unload it by hand.
Dad also kept us busy with the thrashing machine. We went from farm to farm, all working together to harvest the oats, wheat, and barley. Farmers from the area came with horses and wagons. We went to the fields where the grains were shocked. Everyone had their pitch forks and pitched the bundles of grain onto the wagons. They hauled the grain to the thrashing machine. When my dad first started thrashing, we had a Red River special thrashing machine which was run by a steam engine. We worked from farm to farm until everyone’s grain was thrashed.
When we set up the thrash, we blew the straw either in a barn or in a pile. A little while later, my dad had a silo filler so we would start filling the silo the same way we thrashed. The neighbors brought teams and wagons to haul the corn to the silo. He would use the silo filler to blow the corn into the silo one wagon load of corn at a time.
In 1936, we drove cattle to Marion to ship to Detroit by train as no cattle buyers were near us. I rode a Shetland Pony named Jim to drive the cattle while the men walked behind the cattle. We drove the cattle to a pen in Marion. The pens were on the west side of M-66 – across from the current lumberyard. There were about six wooden pens along the train track with a flowing well to water the cattle. The pens held the cattle until the train came to haul them to Detroit.
Another thing I did in my youth was to pack potatoes. Percy Baughn, my neighbor, hired me and my brother Ray to pick up the potatoes that he would dig up at night after his daytime job at the gas plant. My brother and I would take a crate between us and fill it up. We got 3 cents a crate for our labor. I would have been about 6 years old at the time, and my brother, 8.
In the summer, we would cut hay and haul it to the barn loose on the wagon. My job as the youngest son, was to get on the front-end gate of the wagon and drive the horses. The hay loader was in the back. We would pick up the hay from windrows, putting in on the wagon to my brothers. My brothers had to keep the hay level on the wagon so that it would say on until we got it to the barn. Once we got to the barn, we would unload the hay with hay forks and a sling. We had a track with a rope and a pulley which were used to lift the hay into the mow using a team of horses. After working in the hay all day, we would all get into our 1936 Chevrolet and go swimming in the Clam River on Cook Avenue.
GOING TO SCHOOL IN MARION
I went to school in Marion. I was born in 1928 and started school in Marion in 1934 in the old wood schoolhouse which stood just west of the grade school now. After first grade, my teachers were Ms. Baeskey and Ms. Hanney. The second year of school was in the new school – which is the current elementary school. While we were on Christmas break, Ms. Hanney passed away with the flu. Our new teacher was Mildred Mobley.
The next year in school I was on the bus with Bill Eberhart, our bus driver. We were on what is now 5th Avenue just north of the bridge over the river, going up the hill. There’s still a little green house at the site today. We stopped to pick up Eleanor Uterscot. She came across the road to get on the bus and was hit by a car and killed – I’ll never forget that day.
I stayed at Marion Schools until I graduated in 1947. I played baseball, football, and basketball while in school. After I graduated school, I helped my folks on the farm that summer. I would go to the movie with my brother on Saturday nights. My folks would give us a dollar. We could watch a show and get a 5 cent coke.
On the 7th of August, we went to town. On an empty lot, where the post office is now located, they had movies. This day they built a fire and filled a black cloth with hot air and up went a guy in the balloon. He flew out of town and landed on a field where Fred Hower lives. We all looked forward to August the 7th.
JOINING THE ARMY AND RAISING A FAMILY
When World War II came, things changed. I had four brothers that went into the military in World War II. My brother Walt was in the Navy, Fred was in the Air Force, Don was in the Navy, and Ray was in the Army. My brother Fred had been farming before he went into the Air Force – he had about 12 cows. My dad told Fred we would keep his cows while he was in the service. So from 1942 through 1945, we had 24 cows to milk and take care of.
After the war was over, we were glad to see all of my brothers come home safe. I was drafted in January of 1950. I was in the Army for two years.
In June of 1953, I married Helen Reedy. We will be married for 68 years this June. I have lived in Marion all of my life, except for my two years in the Army. I started working for the state of Michigan in 1955; I worked for the state for 30 years.
After I retired from the state, I started farming the 120 acres that my brother Fred and I owned in Clare County. It had always been pasture. It was cradle knolls so we plowed it and worked it up and put it into hay. It took two years to get it to hay. It was a lot of hard work and we picked up a lot of stones.
I also worked part-time for Bill Hughston at the stockyard. Bill sold the stockyard to Michigan Livestock so I worked for them for 10 years and retired again. The auctioneer for Michigan Livestock started a sale barn in Rosebush. He came to me and asked me to work for him. He had dairy sales all over Michigan, but a lot of them were in the thumb area. I got to know a lot of people around Michigan. I worked for Robert Fillhart of Rosebush for 12 years and then gave up working for others; I stayed home and raised beef cattle. I am finally totally retired at 92 years old.
I have six daughters and had one son who was killed in an auto accident: Craig [died in the car accident], Jennie Cox, Cindy, Kenda, Pam, Lisa, and Darcy. My wife, Helen, and I live on the farm that my dad, Andrew, and mother, Pearl, had lived on since 1916. I have six wonderful daughters who all live quite close. Since this coronavirus has come around, we see each other a lot – as we don’t go out much anymore. It has been a good life.
KEN’S SECOND FAMILY: THE VFW
My next family is the VFW. I joined the Marion Blue Mountain Post 6015 in 1956. I was post commander for about 16 years. In those years, we have changed a lot. We built the VFW Hall where it is now. A lot of our men are gone now. At one time had had almost 200 members; we are down to less than 100 members. We had a lot of parades and good times. I’m glad I was able to be commander when we built the Veteran’s Memorial in 1998. It was built by veterans Carl Geyer, Floyd Beebe, Frank Johnson, Jim Puff, Chuck Gilmore, Larry and Lee Schepers, myself, and some other members. We said we would have it done by Memorial Day in 1998 and I had a lot of help from some area folks; they donated time and money to get the memorial done and paid for. I’m grateful to the Post and Auxiliary for all they did and for the crowd that attended our first Memorial Day service; we had around 3000 people come to our new Veteran’s Memorial that first Memorial Day. I would say the people wanted it as much as the veterans did. I know I’m very proud of our memorial, and am happy with the way that Bob Friend keeps it looking nice – thank you, Bob, for all you do.