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Sowing a family tradition
Times photo: Brenda Steurer Leonard and Lydia Gilson, Blanchardville, were named Green Countys oldest active farm couple during Green County Dairy Days Friday in New Glarus. The Gilsons bought their 200-acre farm on County H in 1967. Farming is a good way to keep the family together, they said. The Gilsons raised three children, and now have eight grandchildren, who have all been active in FFA and 4-H programs.
By Tere Dunlap


NEW GLARUS - Leonard and Lydia Gilson, Blanchardville, were named Green County's oldest active farm couple at the Queens Banquet during Green County Dairy Days Friday in New Glarus.

Leonard has been active in farming for most of his life after taking over his family's Waukesha County farm at age 16 following the death of his father in 1956.

"You have to like it in order to do it," he said.

Known as Oma and Opa by their grandchildren, the Gilsons have made farming a family affair.

"It's a good way to keep the family together," Lydia said.

Besides raising dairy beef cattle and cows for milking, and raising grains, beans, corn and alfalfa on their 200-acre farm on County H in Green County, the Gilson family has always been active in FFA and 4-H programs. The whole family gets involved with the annual summer preparations for Green County Fair projects.

"Absolutely," Lydia said. "It takes team work. If anybody had to go somewhere, we all had to pitch in so they could go."

Leonard and Lydia weren't able to get away for a vacation for 20 years, they said.

They now spend the winter months in Arizona for health reasons, but stay in touch with the farm through numerous phone calls. By spring, Leonard is eager to return to Wisconsin and get into the fields with his tractor.

The Gilsons' youngest son, Dennis, bought the farm in 2004, but Leonard still does most of the harvesting of hay and helps with other chores, such as feeding calves, clearing fence lines and cutting wood for furnaces. His grandchildren call him the world's best rock picker.

Lydia helps make food for all the hungry kids and family members that randomly show up at her house no matter what time of day.

Some days Lydia and Leonard's chores include shuttling their eight grandchildren to activities so their sons, Dennis and Bob, can continue with all their farms' needs. They also attend their grandchildren's dairy cattle showings at the Green County Fair and the Wisconsin State Fair.

Their daughter, Julie, an environmental engineer in Beloit, also comes home to watch the achievements of her nieces and nephews.

"We are so proud of our children and grandchildren. That's what's kept us going all these years," Lydia said.

The Gilsons believe the future is in their children and grandchildren and the goal is for the farm to stay in the family.

In 1967, the couple bought their current farm, and moved the following year from Waukesha County. Leonard immediately began implementing conservation tillage practices and learned about strip cropping - farming practices that were absent in eastern Wisconsin.

The two met in Germantown, while Leonard worked with her father hauling wet brewery grain. She was just 17 and he was 20.

Lydia said it was mostly Leonard's sense of humor that attracted her to him.