When Carlyn Deppe founded Deppe Farms with her husband Walter in the early 1950s, she had no idea that the farm would grow from raising turkeys as food for soldiers to what it is today, with two corporations, thousands of pigs, corn and soybean crops and with several generations working on the farm.
In fact, even though she grew up in Beaufort, Deppe, nee Puls, 89, said she was considered a “city girl” until she married her late husband, who had a farming background.
“I never thought I would be a farmer. My mom said, ‘Girl, do you know what you’re doing marrying a farmer?,’ ” she said. “I was going to show her. I was going to make it.”
Carlyn and Walter met at a dance in Washington. Both graduated from Union High School. Walter, who lived between districts, transferred from Washington to Union for high school after meeting Carlyn.
Carlyn recently attended her 70th class reunion. There were only seven people in attendance.
The Class of ’42 only had 42 graduates, Deppe noted.
“It was a sad time because of the war. A lot of boys were leaving already to go into the service,” she said.
After the Deppes were married in 1945, the couple lived on a farm in Clover Bottom. They had a contract with the government to raise turkeys, of which they had thousands.
Every few weeks, government officials would come pick up a truckload of the turkeys.
Though the turkeys provided a living, Carlyn said she didn’t care for them.
“Turkeys are very destructive. Every time a car would come to the house they would jump on it right away, on the roof,” Deppe said, laughing at the memory. “They would scratch everything up.”
And the birds aren’t exactly known for being bright.
“They’re the dumbest things that ever lived!” she said.
The turkeys stand in the rain and drown, she said. When they were little, the turkeys would run in a corner at any little noise, “pile up” and suffocate themselves. They would roam off on a whim and end up at the neighbors, causing aggravation for everyone.
In 1951, the Deppes moved from their Clover Bottom farm to Washington. Walter, she explained, wanted a river bottom farm.
He had traveled the area to school and thought the farm was “one of the best in Franklin County.”
“I thought I was in seventh heaven when we moved here,” she recalled.
The couple made their home at the home place on the farm, which was only about 260 acres total.
Soil in a river bottom is fertile — prime for crops, but also has its drawbacks, Deppe said.
The couple’s first year at the farm was one of a big flood — one that tore up the farm.
“We had really good neighbors. We can be thankful for that,” she said, adding that neighbors helped as much as they could when the land flooded.
There have been several floods since, all of which the family have recovered from.
That first year in Washington, the couple tried raising turkeys, “but that didn’t work at all,” Deppe said.
Carlyn said she was happy to switch to pigs, which are much smarter animals.
“We put everything into hogs,” she said.
“It was a busy life,” she said, “never a dull moment.”
A building on the farm was officially converted into a hog building in about 1952.
Since then, there have been a lot of changes.
Electricity also was a game changer, but came before the couple moved to Washington.
“When we got electricity in Clover Bottom in 1946, that really set the farmers off. We could do more things,” she said.
Everything was manual, but after they were wired for electricity, “it was unbelievable,” Carlyn said.
The biggest advancement, Deppe said without hesitation, has been cellphones.
“Cellphones, that and cabs on the tractor,” she said, because prior to that there was no way to communicate while the farmers were in the fields.
With a cellphone, they could find out what people were doing, where they were and if they were interested in supper without actually going to the farm, Deppe said.
The Deppes had five children — Kathleen, Carol, James, Richard and Trisha.
When the children were young, Carlyn stayed home with them. But Walter’s parents also lived with the couple for 30 years.
“(A farm is) an excellent place to raise a family,” Carlyn said. “It’s as good as it gets.”
Because there always was someone to keep an eye on the kids, Carlyn had the opportunity to bring food to the crew, which she did each morning. She continues to bring coffee to the farm hands each morning, as well as sausage, cheese, jelly, bread, cookies and other treats throughout the day.
For her 80th birthday, Deppe received a Gator ATV, which she used to get around on. Now she uses it to get mail and for other tasks.
“I use it every day if the weather is nice,” she said. “It’s better than getting in the car.”
Walter and Carlyn built another home, just up the road from the home place, in 1976. About that same time, Carlyn took over the financial aspect of the farm.
“Walter just left the bills lay,” she said. “So I just took over. And here I am, still paying bills.”
Carlyn, who will turn 90 on Dec. 13, said she enjoys working with figures.
She took bookkeeping in high school. And, like in high school, she continues to keep books with a pencil, eraser and occasionally an adding machine.
When computers are required, like for direct deposit for employee checks, her son Rich helps her.
She keeps track of tickets, invoices and billing and runs errands as needed.
As a farmer, Carlyn also keeps meticulous track of the weather patterns, writing high and low temperatures and observations on the calendar daily. She reports the information to the Department of Natural Resources.
“Weather has a lot to do with farming,” she said.
The Farm Now
Now, the Deppes have 4,000 acres on five farms with 11 employees, seven of whom are family.
The Deppes have four generations currently working for the farm. Counting Walter Deppe’s parents, the family is in the fifth generation of farmers.
“I never realized we’d get to where we are,” she said.
Besides Washington, the Deppe family has farms in Berger and in the New Haven area.
In the early years, Deppe Farms would sell hundreds of hogs. Now, more than 24,000 pigs pass through the farm annually. There are some 14,000 pigs on the farms on any given day.
Some of the pigs go to several small, local butcher shops. The majority, 400-450 per week, go to Cargill, a packing plant in Illinois.
Soybeans are shipped to ADM in St. Louis.
Deppe noted that prices farmers get now are better than they used to be.
“It was tough making a living, and grain didn’t sell for much either,” she said, wondering out loud what her husband would think if he were still alive.
She has four desks in her home for two separate corporations. In addition to Deppe Farms, the Deppe grandchildren run West Haven, which has about 1,000 acres of crops, tractors, equipment and some buildings.
Because of her eyesight and finger dexterity, Carlyn has given up quilting but said she still enjoys reading.
As a family, the Deppes continue to make summer sausage each year.
Deppe said she’ll never retire, “as long as my mind (is strong) and I can get to the desk.”