By David Schriemer, MD
Walter Horn is a living example of hard work, honesty, frugality and resilience. He was born December 11, 1908. He is 104 years old. He lives in his farmhouse in Schoolcraft that was completed in 1859.
He was born in Three Rivers, the 2nd of 5 children. He attended a one room schoolhouse from kindergarten to 8th grade. Chores were completed before and after school. School ran 9am to 4pm. As a 13 year old he recalls he made 50 cents digging post holes all day for a neighbor. He helped plow fields guiding the plow behind three horses. One of Walter’s jobs each spring was to clean out the outhouse, shoveling out the waste and spreading it in the fields. Surprisingly he didn’t think it was all that bad. Hard work was expected and done.
Walter grew up next door to his future wife Vera. They married when she was 17 and he was 23. They had just started their life together when the Depression started. He recalls days when “there was hardly anything to eat.” This is when he really learned to live by his mottos “watch your pennies” and “don’t buy anything unless there is money in your pocket”. In 1939 he recalls growing ½ an acre of pickles and selling them for 9 dollars at a pickle factory in Texas Corners. After paying off a 4 dollar debt, he and Vera splurged on a couple of ice cream cones.
Walter and Vera were married from 1933 until her death in 2011, seventy eight years. “She was the best,” Walter says. She was quite a cook, too. Son Lynn described how they would butcher a hog and render the lard which was stored in canisters. This was the secret ingredient in Vera’s pie crusts. They enjoyed not only the pies but Lynn especially remembers eating the “cracklins,” the cooked hide left over after rendering the lard.
Farming first with horses then with tractors, living without and with electricity and indoor plumbing was challenging. “If you want to do it you can do it;” it’s just that simple for Walter Horn.
After his parents died, Walter and Vera moved to his current home in Schoolcraft in 1940. Walter farmed “shares” with Charlie Briggs: Mr. Briggs owned the land and Walter farmed it, sharing the profits with the owner. They had a good working relationship. As Walter says, “There is nothing like being honest.”
After Mr. Briggs died, Walter was able to purchase the 240 acre farm from his heirs in 1946. He farmed and raised two children, Lynn and Onalee.
As a farmer, especially in the pre-irrigation era, he learned resilience.
One year, the corn was looking real good and he told Charlie Briggs that he was very excited about the prospect of a good harvest. “He told me ‘don’t count your chickens before the eggs are hatched’. We had a drought just when the corn would germinate.
Our entire crop was 25 bushels.” He learned to accept whatever came along and make the best of it.
He has kept that attitude even as he has aged. After he was in his 70s, Lynn took over most of the farming but Walter could still be found on a tractor in his 90s. Severe arthritis keeps him from walking much. He would love to walk the fields or drive the tractors (“I could get up on one if I had to”) but he can’t. “Happiness is my old rocking chair now.” he says.