Hutterite groups battle over field

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Farm Forum

Another civil lawsuit involving a Stratford-area Hutterite colony has been filed in Brown County.

In this one, an Aberdeen-based company, Red Acre LLC, is suing Hutterville Hutterian Brethren, including residents George Waldner Sr., Kenneth Waldner, Samuel Waldner and Thomas Waldner.

Red Acre claims that, in May, it entered into a a three-year lease to rent and farm about 9,800 acres of Hutterville property in Brown and Spink counties. And, the company claims, the defendants are attempting to “plant crops and otherwise interfere with Red Acre’s right to farm the property.”

It wants the defendants to be barred from interfering with Red Acre’s rights under the lease.

Red Acre also is seeking a temporary restraining order prohibiting the defendants from farming the land detailed in the lease.

Hutterville and the individual defendants, though, claim Red Acre is nothing but a shell company organized by Johnny Wipf Sr. and Aberdeen attorney Rob Ronayne. Hutterville and the Waldners have filed a counterclaim in which whey want the suit against them dismissed, the Red Acre lease declared void and seek damages for slander to title, trade or business.

The Waldner and Wipf factions have been fighting for years over control of the colony in southeast Brown County. A previous civil lawsuit filed in Brown County eventually made its way to the state Supreme Court. Justices ultimately ruled the colony could not be dissolved because the dispute is a religious matter.

In essence, the two sides are battling again in the lawsuit filed last month.

Red Acre argues Wipf is the landlord of the leased Hutterville property. It says it’s concerned that the defendants will try and draw the company into the dispute and might even damage crops.

But Waldner’s side claims that Red Acre doesn’t even have plans to plant crops. And, it claims, Wipf isn’t the leader of or a proper member of Hutterville — having been excommunicated and doesn’t have any authority to rent the land.

The colony power struggle is tied to which branch of the Hutterite religion the two groups follow.

Waldner’s side argues that Ronayne, a member of the Aberdeen City Council, is Red Acre’s sole member and manager and that he “caused Red Acre to enter into the farm lease solely as an accommodation for Wipf or as yet unidentified third parties and to facilitate the filing of this action for the purpose of legitimizing Wipf’s fraudulent ownership claims and depriving Hutterville of the use and enjoyment of its property …”

Ronayne and Wipf have filed paperwork asking that the claims against them be dismissed.

No hearing date has been filed in the case.

In another court-related matter involving apparent ongoing strife at the colony, a protection order hearing has been scheduled for 10 this morning at the Brown County Courthouse. Kenneth Waldner is seeking a protection order for his family against another colony resident.

In his request for a protection order, Kenneth Waldner cites instances in the past year or so in which, he claims, the other man has become aggressive toward him and his family.

Kenneth Waldner claims that earlier this month, the man approached him and his toddler son and brandished a knife. Kenneth Waldner said he reported the incident to the Brown County sheriff’s office.

Chris White, chief deputy state’s attorney for Brown County, said there is an ongoing investigation concerning such an incident.

White and Sheriff Mark Milbrant both said they’ve heard reports of power being cut off internally at the colony, but neither had seen a report on the matter or knew of potential criminal charges.

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