By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Bernie Kimman, a longtime resident of Pierz, turned 100 years old April 18. While a little hard of hearing and confined to a wheelchair, he said he is doing just fine and is not in any pain. His attitude seemed to say turning 100 was no big deal.
Bernie was born in Clinton, Iowa, in 1912. He said that at an early age, his family moved to Parkston, S.D. where his parents established a dairy farm.
“The cattle, the machinery, everything was moved by train to Pierz,” Bernie said. “We were let off in Genola, then had a cattle drive to the farm.”
Bernie was the fifth child of 12, born to Frank and Elizabeth Kimman. His siblings were Arnold, Regina, Clara, Lawrence, Frank, Henry, Edward, Theresa, Herman, Loretta and Nick.
The children attended school across the road from the farm in a country school. Stories have it that if there was a bad snowstorm, the teacher, unable to get home, would spend the night in the Kimman home.
Bernie’s sister Theresa said there were about 30 students in the school and one teacher. They were taught eight subjects. But, Bernie said he never learned to read. He also said while none of his brothers learned to read, all his sisters could. He could not remember why.
When Bernie was about 20 years old, both his parents died within six months of each other. It was during the Depression and the children were left with a farm and a $15,000 debt on the property. The eldest was 29 and the youngest 4.
The children stayed together to work the farm. Their neighbors, the Virnigs, who had also traveled from Iowa to South Dakota and then to Pierz, were there to help.
“Our uncle Clem Kimman in Iowa would come to the farm every two years to see how we were getting on,” said Theresa. “He once gave us $1,000 to purchase a tractor.”
The Kimman children cleared most of the land themselves, picking rock. When the family moved to Pierz, only seven acres was cleared. When they sold the farm, 200 acres were cleared. The rest was used for pasture.
The Kimman children did what they could to pay off the debt. Some worked out, they sold eggs for 7 cents a dozen and sold their milk. Horses were broken for neighbors and those born on the farm were broken and sold.
Bernie remembers huge gardens, acres in size, planted to feed the family. All the canning was done on a wood stove the entire time they lived on the farm.
For fun, they played ball in the yard, and cards at night. There would be house dances every so often at the neighbors’ farms.
Bernie never married, nor did Nick, Lawrence, Henry and Regina. They all lived on the farm until a wood stove fire in 1990, made the home unlivable.
The Kimman family got electricity to the farm in about 1943, but never did install plumbing. When Bernie’s nephew Vern Kimman purchased the farm in about 2005, he tore down the old place and built a new home. The largest change came when electricity was added. They added electric milkers and water pumps for the cows.
“We used to rely on Hillman Creek for the water for the animals, summer and winter,” said Theresa. “Each morning the men would chop holes in the ice for the cattle.”
The Kimmans took care of the cattle while the cattle took care of them.
For 22 years, Bernie hauled beer mash from the Kiewel Brewery in Little Falls to the farm for feed. It was made of barley and the cows loved it.
When the house succumbed to fire, Bernie, Henry, Nick and Regina moved in with Theresa, who’s husband had passed away. They never rebuilt the home, and at that time, they were renting out their fields.
But they continued working their huge gardens.
Mike Virnig, a descendant of the Virnigs who lived across the road from the Kimmans, said, “The family was organic before it was fashionable. The only thing they bought from the store was salt, sugar and flour. They were healthy eaters.”
Bernie admitted he smoked once in awhile, “But, only to show off,” he said. He also never drank except for special occasions, but did chew tobacco until it got too expensive.
Virnig said the Kimman family was unique in that half the family stayed together to work the farm.
“They would help the entire neighborhood with anything,” he said. “They were right there to pick rocks, erect a barn, butcher animals, bale hay or thrash.”
Bernie said that no one likes to pick rocks, but they were there and it had to be done. So just do it.
Bernie moved to Rose Court Assisted Living in Pierz in about 2000, then into Pierz Villa in 2008.