Local couple receive farming honor
Century award given to Denholms
For most of his 78 years, Walter Lee Denholm has lived on a farm that has been in his family since 1868.
Denholm, who lives on County Road 9, just northeast of Tonganoxie, is like a dictionary of little known facts about his neighborhood.
On a country drive, he points to a field road that leads to an unseen and virtually unknown cemetery. Summit Cemetery is located not far from his property on County Road 9.
And amid the tall grove of trees at the south end of the Denholm acreage is where he said pioneers taking the trail between Leavenworth and Lawrence would bury loved ones who died along the way.
Last Wednesday, Denholm and his wife, Nila, were honored by the Leavenworth County Farm Bureau Association of Kansas Farm Bureau, for their "Century Farm."
To qualify, said county coordinator Joan Payne, the honorees must be members of Kansas Farm Bureau, the land must have been in the same family for 100 years or more and the family still must own at least 80 acres of the original land.
And the present owner must be related to the original owner.
In Denholm's case that would be his great-great-great-grandfather, William Mitchell.
Mitchell bought the land in the summer of 1868 from the Union Pacific Railroad Eastern Division.
Prior to that, in 1861, the land, which in the early 1800s was part of the Delaware Indian territory, was bought by the Leavenworth Pawnee Western Railroad Company.
Denholm, who has lived on the farm all his life, except for a 1945-1946 stint as a merchant seaman, jokes about never having left home.
"It just shows you, that after 100 years in the family we're so dern poor we just can't leave," Denholm quipped.
But he and his wife, Nila, have been settled in their home since 1967. For years they've cultivated their home place into a shady corner. And they've raised their four sons, who now are grown, on that plot.
Rodney lives in Salina, Robbie lives in Newton, Jimmy lives in a new house near his parents and Jeff lives in the family's old two-story farmhouse which five years ago he moved to the base of a hill at the south end of the family's property.
"We just really liked it and it was comfortable here," Nila said.
And, for years, the family was too busy to do anything else. That's because they had a dairy.
"He (Walter Lee) had five years that he never had a day off," Nila said.
Walter Lee Denholm's first ancestors who arrived in this area lived in a log cabin.
According to family stories, those times not only were rugged, they were dangerous.
"They told the story about how they used to pull the shutters on the windows at night," Denholm said. "After dark you didn't burn anything and they kept very still in there. If anybody knocked on the door you'd never answer it -- it was during the Border Wars -- they'd shoot you right through the door. It was rough here in those days."
Denholm's great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran who was in Sherman's March to the Sea and the Battle of Vicksburg, arrived in the area in about 1865.
Denholm said his ancestors were the first to farm the ground.
"My great-granddad brought hedge posts to plant for fences," Denholm said. "That's where the dad-gummed hedge trees here came from."
Originally, his family members owned 400 acres, Denholm said. Today, he and Nila have 292 acres.
The Denholms, who recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, say they've had a good life on the farm.
Though he no longer operates a dairy, Denholm still farms his ground. He also works at B&J's convenience store, and Nila works in the adjacent grocery store's bakery.
The couple plan to stay where they're at.
"I don't know no other home," Walter Lee said, smiling. "This is home, that's all I've got to say."
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