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Keeping up traditions

By Staff | Mar 30, 2018

Bryce Gerking and his mother, Rita Gerking stand on top of the hill of the Gerking’s Heritage Farm.



BRONSON – Richard and Rita Gerking’s farm has a long, rich history that dates back to 1867.

That’s when Rita’s great-grandfather, James A. Waddell, homesteaded 160 acres in Grange Township, near Bronson in Woodbury County.

Waddell came to the U.S. from Ireland, stopping in Ohio for a short time before making his way to Iowa.

Richard, Rita and Bryce Gerking pose with an old plat map. The Gerking’s Heritage Farm has ben in Rita’s family for 150 years. Bryce Gerking is currently the fifth generation of his family to reside on the family farm.

He first settled in Mapleton. During that time, Rita Gerking said her great-grandfather served in the Iowa Militia, which helped protect the state of Iowa from Native American attacks.

Richard Gerking said it is believed the farmland was deeded to him as payment for his service.

Soon thereafter, Waddell settled on his 160 acres and built a house.

That same farm is now home to the fifth generation, Bryce Gerking, Richard and Rita Gerking’s son.

“I have loved that house since I was a kid,” said Bryce Gerking. “I got to live in my dream house when I was only 20.”

Waddell and his wife, Sarah, had seven children; five boys and two girls. Although their father had purchased enough land for each of their sons to have, they all decided to try their luck at farming elsewhere and attempted to homestead in Norden, Nebraska.

Those hopes were short-lived.

Richard Gerking said the story is all five sons came back to Iowa to claim their land after their father passed away.

“He had acquired enough land, almost 1,500 acres for his children,” said Gerking.

Out of those seven children, only one other family has managed to keep their portion of the land.

That would be Fred Waddell and his wife, Minta, whose portion of land included the acreage.

Fred Waddell is the son of James A. and Sarah Waddell, and Rita Gerking’s grandfather.

Gerking said her grandparents were crop farmers and also raised hogs, had some cattle and farmed with horses.

She has special memories of time spent with her grandmother.

“At one time there was a road that went between our house and our grandparents’, and my grandma would meet me at what we called Boarden Gate and walk me to her house,” she said.

Next in line for the farm were Gerking’s parents, Ralph and Myrtle Waddell.

She said her father traded hogs for the farmland.

Richard and Rita Gerking became owners of what is now their Heritage Farm in 1993, after they purchased the farm from the estate of Rita Gerking’s brother.

“We wanted to keep it in the family,” she said. “It’s unique to be able to work on the same ground and to till the same ground your ancestors did.”

“We thought it was the thing to do and we still think it was the thing to do,” said Richard Gerking on their decision to purchase the farm.

Currently the Gerkings operate a cow/calf operation together as a family and rent out the crop land.

The Gerkings said they are keeping up the long-lived tradition of raising livestock.

“It’s just natural to have cattle here,” said Rita Gerking.

Bryce Gerking is carrying on the family’s tradition, building up his own herd.

The Gerkings were recognized for their Heritage Farm last summer.

“I felt it was recognition for my great-grandfather, his work, his foresight,” she said. “It is recognition for those before me.”

Last summer, the Gerkings celebrated their Heritage Farm in a special way with a float in the Bronson Fourth of July parade.

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