Daughter follows mother to life on Mansfield farm

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By Kelda J.L. Pharris


Always listen to your mom.

Or is that such a good plan after all?

“I grew up on a farm in northwest Brown County. My mother said don’t marry a farmer, it’s a hard life. So I met this farmer …” Sharon Stroschein said, as her voice trailed off at the irony.

Stroschein, 72, and her daughter, Amy Wanous, 48, are the matriarchs of two generations of farm and cattle folk who have worked the approximately 3,000 acres of Sleepy Hollow in the Mansfield area. Sleepy Hollow is the name of the Stroschein farm.

A few days back, the two women were talking together on the speakerphone at Stroschein’s farmhouse. Their lively banter was indicative of a strong mother-daughter relationship many celebrate on Mother’s Day.

“This is the home place and the one that’s been in the family for some generations, and when we move on, then (Wanous and family will) move in,” Stroschein said of the home.

It won’t be a move that covers much geography. Now, Wanous is just 3 miles down the road from the headquarters of ag operation. She took over as steward five years ago with her husband, John Wanous. The farm has been in the Stroschein family since 1912.

Wanous is the fourth generation to manage the land and animals at Sleepy Hollow. Stroschein said Wanous has provided significant help and leadership though the years.

From early on, it was clear to Stroschein that ranch life was a natural fit for Wanous.

Maybe a moment caught on film nearly five decades ago revealed what was bound to happen.

“When Amy was very little … we put her on a horse and she had her first horse ride. I gave it to her,” Stroschein said. “She loved it so much, she didn’t want to get off, and to this day she doesn’t want to get off a horse.

“Amy has this huge smile on her face, and that’s the way it always went,” Stroschein said.

Now, as one of the leads on the ranch, Wanous tackles the tasks head on in earnest.

“All winter, I fed 300 head of cattle,” she said. “Now, like Mom, I help with the bookwork — the good ol’ bookwork I have to get done. And I have fixed a lot of fence.”

“She was on deck immediately. She already knew which cow went to which calf, when you had to turn the bulls out …,” Stroschein said of when her daughter took over the farm.

“She knows all about having to feed a big table full of men who are hungry. She’s always been a horsewoman. She has molded into her role better than I did,” Stroschein said. “When I graduated from college, I was a teacher, then we had Larry and his dad at that time. I wasn’t quite as involved in the farm until I had kids and started staying home.”

Larry is Sharon Stroschein’s husband.

“Larry’s grandfather lived on it. Then, after the (stock market) crash in 1929, he lost the farm. Then my father-in-law bought it, then that’s the same farm we live on right now,” she said of the original farmhouse and the land surrounding it.

In each generation, all family members participated in keeping the farm and ranch running. Women have always had prominent roles.

“We were starting our family in the ’70s and ’80s,” Stroschein said. “All (the) children and myself, we were all hands on deck. We had seasonal hired help. It takes a village, it really does.

“A typical day for me was … doing whatever was needed of me. I didn’t often have to work in the fields unless they needed me. I did a lot of silage truck driving, kind of that extra hired hand. Keeping all the books. Running the errands for the parts. Helping with the cattle drive. Moving them from the pastures,” she said.

The farm had a two-way radio and Stroschein was “command central,” taking calls, directing work, running parts and whatever else was needed to the fields. She said the accessibility the radio gave everyone was both a curse and blessing in a time well before cellphones.

In addition to farm-related duties, Stroschein also managed her four children — Ryan, Lon and Allyson are Wanous’ younger siblings — and their activities.

“They were all very active on the farm and we were a very active 4-H family. Like all families, you were the chief taxi driver,” Stroschein said about the traditional role many farm wives and mothers fill.

Stroschein continued as the heart of the farm until Wanous hit middle school and the ag economy hit a slump. It was the 1980s. The family was strapped for cash, so Stroschein stepped partly off the farm and started teaching.

“The reason is in the ’80s everyone was struggling out here. So pretty much the banker told me, ‘You have an education. You need to get back to work.’ It was never my plan to ever go back. But at the time, a lot of us wives went back to work to get a paycheck and insurance,” Stroschein said.

Eventually, she took a job working in U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson’s Aberdeen office.

This dutiful ethic was not lost on Wanous, who said her mother has been a great role model.

When Stroschein went to work, Wanous stepped up to help even more than before. She would even ask to skip class when the veterinarian was going to visit or the fields needed discing. It all seemed easy, and Stroschein marveled at her daughter’s adeptness at the multitude of tasks.

Like her mother, Wanous has picked up a job at the Warner school, where her two daughters take classes. She’ll spend her summer break putting up hay for next winter as the cattle head out to green pasture land.

“In November, it was nice to find a job at the school,” she said. “I’m the bus driver and the lunch lady and whatever else they need me to do.”

Her family is also active with 4-H. Her fifth- and eighth-grade daughters seem to be reveling in farm life, more so than their 21-year-old brother.

Rabbits, chickens, bottle calves and more make their way to the Brown County Fair year after year under the girls’ care. They are learning the basics of being Sleepy Hollow’s fifth-generation caretakers, if they so choose.

Whereas Stroschein’s mother wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of her daughter getting into farm life, she feels differently about Wanous’s career choices.

“We feel very fortunate that she wanted to stay on the farm,” Stroschein said.

Wanous couldn’t agree more.

“This was in me to be here on the farm,” she said.

Follow @Kelda_aan on Twitter.

A family photograph of Sharon Stroschein holding her daughter Amy, who was 10 months old at the time. Farm Forum Photo by John Davis
Amy Wanous, left, and her mother Sharon Stroschein on the family farm near Mansfield. Farm Forum Photo by John Davis
Writing on the back of a family photograph of Sharon Stroschein holding her daughter Amy while on a horse. Farm Forum Photo by John Davis