Farm Horizons, May 2004

Dairy barn near NYA now hosts private dances

By Lynda Jensen

Instead of saving steps, Harlan and Bev Wilkens are doing the two-step in their old dairy barn near Norwood Young America.

The Wilkenses converted the barn into a dance hall after retiring from a life of dairying in 1994.

The Wilkenses own a century farm that was founded by Harlan’s grandfather, Herman Wilkens, in 1885.

Herman Wilkens arrived from Germany to homestead the property at that time, Harlan said.

The decision to make a dance hall started one day when Harlan was milking, Bev said. “He told me we should clean the hay and have ‘one’ barn dance,” she said with a laugh.

Since then, they have hosted an average of eight dances per year for private parties; although the barn is not for rent, she said.

They keep the dances limited to friends or family, for such events as weddings, anniversaries or reunions; which must be invitation-only events, she said. The events can’t be publicly advertised.

Before that time, the Wilkenses milked 60 Holstein cows and raised 300 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

They used a stall barn style of milking for 40 years, with the last 20 years using pipeline, he said.

Harlan dairied the same as his father, Herman, grandfather, Henry, and great grandfather Herman.

In fact, Harlan’s father, Herman, used to operate a threshing rig that would serve area farms during harvest.

The Wilkenses have two children: Gail, 45, and Mark, 43.

Gail works at PolyFoam in Lester Prairie and Mark is a maintenance coordinator at a woodworking shop in Plato.

When the '90s rolled around, the Wilkenses had to made a hard decision about their historical dairy farm.

Although both their children enjoyed living on a dairy farm and were interested in dairying, it just didn’t make enough to support the families needed to operate it, Bev said.

“We couldn’t do it any more on our own,” she said.

The Wilkenses were also at a point when they had to remodel everything, or make major investments, and the income wasn’t enough to allow their children to take part.

“It wasn’t that they weren’t interested,” she said. “It just couldn’t make enough.”

So, they decided to operate the crop portion, but this lasted only as long as Harlan took visiting town to see the price tags on necessary implements.

“Harlan came home and said ‘We’re done farming,’” she said.

Therefore, the Wilkenses decided to rent out their land, with Harlan running the tractor spring and fall for the renter, and enjoying the dance hall at the same time.

Of course, farming is still a large part of their lives, although they don’t miss making hay, he said.

“We plan to keep the farm forever,” Harlan said.

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