MANITOWOC — Christmas morning farm chores in the 1930s were no different than any other day of the year.
And that was perfectly fine with 93-year-old Norbert Pritzl, who cherishes memories of growing up on the dairy farm owned by his parents, John and Mary Pritzl.
“After we got caught up on the farm on Christmas Eve we’d go to midnight Mass at St. Mary’s (in Clarks Mills),” Norbert said. “And then we’d have a big meal after we got back home late at night. Homemade sausages and homemade cookies for everyone. Then some sleep before up again at 5:30 or 6 o’clock for farm chores Christmas morning. Chores came first.”
Norbert harbors plenty of memories from decades spent dairy farming. This year marks the 80th anniversary he began working full time on the farm.
Norbert attended Catholic school through eighth grade. But since the nearest high school was six miles away in rural Manitowoc County and the family had no means of getting him there, he immediately transitioned to farming full time as a 13-year-old boy.
“I never thought I’d do anything else except farm, and that’s what I did — I was always a farmer,” said Norbert, who retired in 1987. “Farming was just in my blood I guess. I was very satisfied to be a farmer. It was a good life for me.”
Norbert was born in 1925 on his family’s 100-acre dairy operation in the nearby town of Cato. Fairfield Farm milked about 35 registered Guernseys throughout his youth.
“I don’t know how we got Guernseys in the first place, but we always had them,” Norbert said. “Our breed did not keep up with the other breeds over time. And I don’t think there are many left in the state. But I liked our Guernseys, and I still think we have the best flavored milk of any breed.”
Norbert milked cows by hand twice daily as a youngster, then spent countless other hours helping with chores and watching teams of horses work farmland. As the oldest of John and Mary’s 12 children, Norbert was expected to shoulder a fair amount of duties.
John also had three children from a previous marriage before his first wife died during childbirth. Still, he persevered and set the tone for a work ethic that remains with his children — 11 of the 12 kids he had with Mary are still alive.
“My dad was a hard-working man,” Norbert said. “To this day, the finest man I ever knew. He worked hard for our family. We didn’t get a lot of toys for Christmas. We got clothes because that is what we needed. And he worked hard to get us those clothes. We were happy with that.”
After getting married at the age of 29, Norbert and his late wife, Rita, bought the 100-acre farm next door and milked about 35 Guernseys at Breezy Knoll Farm for the next 33 years. Some of those Guernseys were acquired from his parents’ farm.
“One of the first things Rita and I did was buy some milking equipment,” Norbert said. “I had enough of milking the cows by hand.”
Horse teams also were a thing of the past. Pritzl proudly owned Allis-Chalmers D17, Ford 8N and Farmall M tractors. His father ended up owning a variety as well, including Olivers, Internationals, McCormicks and Cases.
For many years the milk from Norbert’s Breezy Knoll Farm was shipped to Lake to Lake until the couple retired in 1987.
“I stopped 31 years ago, and here I still am. Didn’t know I’d still be here,” joked Norbert.
Norbert said both sets of grandparents who emigrated from Germany were farmers. That tradition continued with John, Norbert and then Dominic, the fourth oldest of Norbert’s nine children, who bought Breezy Knoll Farm and milked about 40 Guernseys until 1998.
Echoing the sentiments of his father, Dominic said, “My dad was very hard working and diligent.
“One of the big things I took away from the experience was that he was very receptive in letting all the kids be involved in the work. With some people things have to be meticulous and their way. But we were always welcome to participate. That’s how we learned to do things.
“Sometimes when you have kids involved you have to have a tolerance for the inexperience. And he was very good at letting kids be kids and do things up to their ability.”
Reflecting on his career, Norbert said he’s glad he farmed when he did.
“Back then, the whole neighborhood was all small farms,” Norbert said. “Everywhere you went, there were small farms. I couldn’t farm today. These small farms are pretty well crowded out. It’s gotten to be a business now instead of a family tradition. Big business isn’t for me. Small farms, that’s what I liked because that’s what I had.”