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DeBergs: ‘Farming has been good to us’

By Staff | Feb 11, 2017

DARLENE AND WILLARD DEBERG look through one of the front windows of their Hardin County farmhouse they built in 1980. Their farm was awarded Heritage Farm status in 2016.

ACKLEY – In 1866, the nation was finding its way to equilibrium after the Civil War and assassination of its president.

In Iowa, James Harlan, of Mount Pleasant, was the first Iowan to ever serve in a presidential cabinet – Interior Secretary under Andrew Johnson.

In Hardin County, Johannes and Frankie Colby bought a 120-acre farm in Etna Township, a farm that is still in continuous family ownership 152 years later, and has come down to Darlene and Willard DeBerg through the women of her family.

Conditions in 2017 are considerably more peaceful for the DeBergs than it might have been for Darlene DeBerg’s family three generations earlier.

“The Rainsbarger Gang lived in this area,” she said, “and they were hanged unjustly for a crime they did not commit.”

THE FARM of Darlene and Willard DeBerg, in Etna Township in Hardin County, has been in her family since 1866.

Records show the family lived northeast of Steamboat Rock, which put them six miles south of the Colby farm.

That was during the period from about the 1870s to 1880s, according to the IowaGenWeb Project.

“But they were naughty,” Darlene DeBerg said. “They would go into a store and shoot it up and then leave with just one thing.”

At least some of the Rainsbargers frequently tried to make a living outside the law, she thinks.

She also believes that the murder of a Steamboat Rock man may have been done by someone else, not the four Rainsbargers who were accused of the killing.

Nevertheless, the Rainsbargers were arrested and held in the Eldora jail, when a lynch mob, some suspect were members of a local vigilance committee, stormed the jail and assassinated two of the brothers.

The other two survived, were tried and spent 30 years in prison.

Now the road on which the Rainsbargers must have traveled is called S56 and passes by the DeBerg Heritage Farm, located 1.5 miles north of the former townsite of Cleves and 4.5 miles south of Ackley.

Darlene DeBerg is the fourth generation to own the land from the Colbys, having purchased the 120-acre farm from her first cousin once removed in 1970.

In the past 47 years, the DeBergs have added acres to the farm and have raised mostly grain and hogs. The crop land and hog buildings are now managed by the DeBerg’s son, Michael.

“But I do get to be a gopher sometimes,” Willard DeBerg said.

Late to the award

On the family’s 144th anniversary of owning the farm, it was awarded Iowa’s Century Farm status.

“We didn’t realize it was a Century Farm,” Willard DeBerg said.

And then six years later, in 2016, they applied for and received the Heritage Farm status.

Darlene DeBerg said growing up, she knew more about her father’s side of the family than her mother’s, so she never considered how long her family owned the place until 12 years ago.

“We had no idea about any of this,” DeBerg said. “When we bought it, it was just a piece of ground that was for sale at a reasonable price.”

Willard DeBerg grew up in Butler County and Darlene DeBerg in Grundy County, both bordering Hardin County.

Moved in 1980

When they married, they lived in Ackley, where Darlene worked as a registered nurse, working for a doctor in Ackley. Willard drove to the farm daily. They moved onto the farm in 1980 after building their home there.

“If we hadn’t married,” Darlene said, “Willard might not have farmed.”

Prior to farming, Willard drove a Carnation milk delivery truck and before that, mixed feed for area farmers.

The place has had numerous outbuildings over the years which have been removed, although the foundations of several are still present.

Darlene said the previous generations had diversified farming operations – a little bit of everything.

“Back at that time you had your own meat and your own eggs,” Willard said.

When asked what getting the award meant to the couple, he said “Farming has been good to us.”

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