Leonard and Betty Thieman look out from their kitchen window on their farm on Knigga Road near Pleasant; and they see a lifetime of hard work and dedication.
Leonard Thieman also sees something else as he watches son Mike work at a nearby barn — he sees history.
The Thieman family has owned this land and operated this farm since Leonard Thieman’s grandfather bought the property in the 1890s. It supported Leonard’s grandfather and father; Leonard; and now the fourth generation — Leonard’s sons Larry and Mike — are also making a living off of the farmstead.
Henry and Mary Thieman were Leonard Thieman’s grandparents; and they farmed the farm along with Leonard’s parents, Carl and Mabel Thieman.
In 1926, Leonard Thieman was born — and he figures he’s been doing farm work ever since.
“Except for the time I spent working for Uncle Sam, I’ve been right here on this farm,” Leonard Thieman said. “It’s been in this family for a long time.”
Leonard Thieman remembers having his chores to do as a child, working with older sister Leona on various projects. He says that the farm turned out various crops: hay, corn, oats, wheat, and soy beans, but nothing in the quantities that farmers turn out now.
Living on the northern edge of Switzerland County, when it came time for Leonard Thieman to go to high school; he faced a decision. The only high schools in the county were in Vevay and Patriot, and going to Vevay meant a long walk to meet the bus each day.
So he decided to go to Versailles to high school, resulting in a shorter trip to the bus — and a chance meeting with the love of his life, wife Betty.
In 1944, Leonard Thieman answered the call of his country, entering the U.S. Army and serving in Europe. While he was in basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Leonard and Betty were married.
Returning home at the conclusion of the war in December of 1945, Leonard and Betty Thieman came back to the farm that had been such a part of his childhood.
But the homecoming was bittersweet.
“On the day I got home from the service, my grandfather died,” Leonard Thieman said. “We lived with my folks for awhile after I first got home from the service. That used to happen all the time, but that’s pretty rare now.”
The Thiemans settled into farm life easily, with Leonard helping his father. In 1955, he decided that he’s take on another profession, so he also began driving a school bus.
“I drove that bus for about 45 years,” Leonard said. “I enjoyed it and being around the kids, but I had some heart problems and had to retire from that.”
In the early 1950s Leonard Thieman began growing tobacco on the farm. Betty Thieman said back then if you didn’t already have a base on your land, you had to grow the first year’s crop under penalty. The family started out with an acre of tobacco, and that grew until they were up to 18 acres of burley 10-15 years ago.
How has farming changed over the years?
“You used to be able to make a living off of a farm, but it’s hard to do now,” Leonard Thieman said. “When I came home from the service, the government had a ceiling on hogs and I think it was 11-cents. Right after I got home, the government took the ceiling off and hogs went up to 37-cents. They aren’t even that high now. Every other cost has gone up by leaps and bounds.”
So now Leonard and Betty Thieman stay busy doing odds and ends around the farm. The couple has five children: sons Larry and Mike and daughters Vicki, Terri, and Peggy. They also enjoy their grandchildren — and the Thiemans are also avid bowlers, with Leonard bowling four times a week and Betty bowling three times a week.
“At the rate I’m going though, I think I’ll have to quit pretty soon,” Leonard Thieman says of his bowling. “I’m getting worse all the time. I don’t know if anyone will have me on their team anymore.”
So the Thiemans relax and enjoy their retirement. Son Mike says that he has to give dad a job every now and then to keep him busy — but Leonard Thieman just looks at his son and smiles.
“We don’t own anything, it all belongs to the boys now,” Betty Thieman says.
“That’s not true,” Leonard Thieman smiles at his wife. “You own that big dog out there in the yard.”
And as that dog follows Mike Thieman back to the barn lot, the tradition of the family farm survives and thrives under the watchful eye of Leonard Thieman.