SCHOOL HILL — Marion Lenz laughs whenever she thinks about her late father, Theodore Bonde, learning to drive a Ford Model A car on the family’s dairy farm.
“My dad was used to driving horses,” said Lenz, 91, recalling one particular day nearly 80 years ago.
“So when the neighbor showed him how to drive that Model A he pulled the lever down and the car went ahead and ran into the stand with our milk cans and my dad yelled ‘Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!’
“But they weren’t horses anymore. That was a Model A. And that Model A didn’t listen and kept going until it ran over all those milk cans.”
That was among the memories Lenz shared while reflecting on her rural upbringing in the small community of School Hill, about 15 miles southwest of Manitowoc.
Lenz, who still lives in the community, was the third-youngest of Theodore and Genevieve Bonde’s 15 children. One brother and one sister are still alive.
Genevieve died from cancer in 1934 at age 43 when Lenz was just a youngster. Theodore, who died in 1980 at age 94, never remarried, instead focusing on raising his children and running the 86-acre farm he bought in the early 1910s.
The family milked about 25 cows, with the milk getting shipped about a half-mile away down a gravel road to a small cheese factory that’s no longer in existence.
“We milked our cows by hand,” said Lenz, noting her father bought a milking machine in the mid-1940s. “I thought it was fun. And I helped bale hay and stuff like that. We all helped.”
The family used plow horses throughout much of her childhood, with her father eventually acquiring a used Fordson tractor. “We called it the donkey,” Lenz said with a chuckle.
Lenz also handled much of the cooking duties once her older sisters married and left home.
“My dad showed me how to bake bread when I was 9 years old, so I ended up baking a lot of bread,” she said.
The farm also featured an orchard for selling apples, as well as plenty of chickens and pigs.
“All of us kids would run barefoot all summer, and then my dad would sell a pig or two in the fall and buy us all shoes,” Lenz said.
Those shoes came in handy when playing baseball with her siblings and neighbors.
“We had a baseball game almost every night,” she said. “We played a lot of hide-and-go-seek. We played games all the time when we weren’t doing the chores. I loved the freedom. Being outside and running around and being in the country.”
As a youngster, Lenz and her siblings attended classes at Holy Trinity School.
“I walked 2½ miles to school every day, until my dad bought a Ford Model A and then sometimes he gave us a ride,” she said. “And sometimes in winter we took the horses and a sleigh to school. The boys had to come earlier to light the furnace and haul the wood in from the shed. And after school we’d play ball when it was warm enough.”
Lenz said her father also made a few extra dollars by making beer during Prohibition.
“People in the community knew he was making the beer,” she said, adding with a laugh, “but they didn’t arrest him because then they would have had to feed all of us kids.”
Lenz stayed on the farm until 1949, when as a 21-year-old woman she married her late husband, Robert. He also grew up on a dairy farm, and among his jobs later in life he worked as a livestock dealer.
Lenz’s brother Fritz eventually took over the farm from their father, and a portion of the property is still owned by family members.
Lenz’s formal education stopped after eighth grade, but she went on to earn a license selling real estate and pursued that career path for 30 years.
Lenz said she will always remember the good times growing up on the farm.
“It was so nice seeing everybody working together,” she said. “They came together and did the threshing and making hay. The good old days aren’t like today. Now there’s so many big farms around and most kids aren’t really following in the footsteps of farming.
“I am glad I was raised on the farm. I think it was just wonderful being a farm girl.”