Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Area family farm wins conservation award

January 23, 2002

To the passerby it's a farm field circled by trees on two sides, punctuated by a pond.

But to the "Robb girls," it's home.

The daughters of Bill and Wanda Robb, for work on their Tonganoxie farmland. B.A. and Deborah Skeet, Reno. John and Ruby Glassley and Calvin and Delores Fields, Easton. The homestead windbreak established by Park and Brenda Colwell, Reno.

Home is land their great-grandfather bought in 1903.

Home is land now, almost a century later, being named a soil conservation winner in the Leavenworth County 2001 Kansas Bankers Soil Conservation Award.

On a gray cold January day, the wind whips the overcoat of Nancy Robb Hudson as she takes visitors on a tour of the old homestead. She has braved the elements despite a winter cold that left her with a raspy cough.

But it's likely, for the sake of the old family farm and those who settled it that she would have braved more than that. Her eyes glisten with sentiment as she points to the rise where her parents' house stood, then to the land where her grandfather built his first barn.

What was left of the farmstead buildings, a house and several barns, was flattened in the May 11, 2000, tornado that swept across the top of Hubbel Hill and then hit Tonganoxie.

Trees and ditches along the roadway still show signs of metal roofs of that farm, and of neighboring farms, ripped from buildings.

It is ironic, Hudson said, that after almost a century of being inhabited, when the tornado struck, no one lived at the family farm. Her mother, Wanda Robb, the last to live there, had died in 1998.

But still the family had kept up the house.

"We'd talked about what to do with the house, whether or not to rent it, and we couldn't decide," Hudson said. "The tornado made that decision for us."

Gary Rader, District Conservationist with Natural Resource Conservation Service, said the Robb farm is receiving the award because of the way conservation practices such as terracing and tilling have been maintained and practiced.

The land has since 1984 been farmed by B.A. Skeet, Reno, who also is receiving the 2001 award for his own farmland conservation practices.

The Robb farm operation includes a total of 197 acres. Of this, 127 acres are in cropland, with some of that acreage in grass. About 10 acres make up the old farmstead area and 58 acres of wooded areas includes a pond. The land is located atop Hubbel Hill, with another parcel east of Tonganoxie.

The farm at the top of Hubbel Hill was purchased by Hudson's great-grandfather, Thomas Robb, whom she said bought the land in 1903 from Whitted Laming Jr. Hudson's grandfather, Robert Robb, later owned and farmed the property. And in the 1950s, Hudson's parents, William and Wanda Robb, began to buy the property while he was still serving in the Air Force. Hudson's parents started building a house on the property in 1963 and moved into it in 1964. Her mother, Wanda Robb, taught at Tonganoxie Elementary School for 28 years. William Robb died in 1984.

The four Robb daughters, Nancy Hudson, Connie Curry, Fort Worth, Texas; Eva Prince, Las Vegas, and Kathy Kurpeikis, Pittsburgh, Penn., graduated from Tonganoxie High School.

Hudson, who lives the closest after recently moving to Fairway from Philadelphia after 25 years, said she's glad to be back.

She points to the area where her grandparents raised chickens, to the pond where her father when ice skating attempted to jump over barrels, to the land where her children and her sisters' children each summer spent a week with their grandparents, fishing and soaking up the rural atmosphere.

"We got some raising here, all of us," she said.

Hudson said she's glad to be living in Kansas again.

"It's a good but eerie feeling to be back within a stone's throw of the farm," Hudson said. "Good, but eerie with everything gone, with all our landmarks gone."

But some things haven't changed.

Hudson casts a glance at Hubbel Hill Cemetery, across the highway, the cemetery where her parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are buried.

"I always feel like they can see the farm from there," she said.

And nothing can change the fact that to Hudson, her children and her sister's children, the farm will always be symbolic.

"None of our children lived here," Hudson said. "But all of them still call it home in some way."

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