THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR Bulletin of the Sebewa Center
AUGUST 2001, Volume 37, Numbers 1. Sebewa Township, Ionia County, MI.
Submitted with written permission of Editor Grayden D. SLOWINS:
SURNAMES: Lich, Dorn. Libby, Wallace, Creighton, Coe, Tannis, Long, Fletcher,
Sargeant, Sindlinger, Colby, Nash, Cross, Tuitman, David, Tower, Scorza,
JOHN M. LICH, 86, husband of Vera SCORZA TERPSTRA LICH, widower of Nell TORRENGA
LICH, father of John P. LICH, Evelyn M. DAVID, Linda I. TOWER & Larry W. LICH,
brother of the late Henry & Peter LICH, son of Sadie DORN & Peter LICH, grandson
of John LICH I, an onion set farmer from Lansing, Illinois, and originally from
John was born April 28, 1915, in Chicago, and moved to Sebewa Township April 15,
1940. His father had a wholesale produce store in the Chicago Farmers Market. He
& John came to Alto, MI, to buy onions from Floyd & Jane HUNT in 1934, beginning
a long and wonderful friendship that affected so many lives. Mary Jane WENGER
HUNT was a first cousin to my grandmother, Barbara N. WENGER BRAKE.
John died June 20, 2001, in Florida. Cremation has taken place and a memorial
service will be held at 3:00PM, Sunday, July 29, at Lake Odessa Christian
Reformed Church, 620 Sixth Avenue, Lake Odessa. Friends may meet with the family
beginning at 1:00PM, to share stories about John.
This issue of the Recollector contains a reprint of John’s story in his own
words, as told to Robert Wilfred GIERMAN in 1982. It contains a lot we had
forgotten. For instance, we had always understood that John’s father was J.
Peter LICH, and that was how Little John got to be John P. LICH IV, but it took
John LICH I & Peter Lich I to get us to John M. LICH, John P. LICH, and John P.
LICH IV. I also remember that truck he was so proud of and had for so long. It
said on the sides: Sebewa Farm, John LICH, Portland, Mich.
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LICH SR.
My grandfather was John Lich I from Lansing, Illinois. He was an onion set
farmer. My maternal grandfather was Henry Dorn. He was a plasterer by trade but
he lived on a truck farm when he first came from Holland. Next year my wife and
I and three couples, friends, are going to go to Holland in June to visit the
place of origin. One of the men was born and raised there. He grows plants and
he plans to take us all around Holland. I really look forward to that trip. I
like to have somebody along who knows the place.
My mother’s name was Sadie and my dad’s name was Peter. My parents had three
children. I was the oldest, Henry was two years younger, and our brother, Peter,
died when he was five years old. I was born in 1915 in Chicago at 63rd and
Crawthers, where the folks lived at that time, adjacent to the Midway Airport in
the clearing section of Chicago.
My dad had a produce store in the Chicago market. He sold to the grocery stores.
The grocers would come to the market early and buy their vegetables from a
produce man. He would stay all night at the market while the farmers were
bringing their produce in. He and others were called scalpers because they would
buy from the farmer who wanted to get back to working on another crop. The
scalpers would then sell to the storekeepers at an hour more convenient to them.
When I was seven years old, as I remember, I sat on the thousand bags of sweet
corn. The ears were bagged, 5 dozen to a sugar sack. Farmers could not afford to
stay at the market for a long time to wait for the top price so they would sell
to a fellow like my dad. The store keepers depended on him. When the melons were
ready in Indiana we would send trucks to get them. We would try to get tomatoes
from as far south as Indianapolis to have them before the local crop. From that
age on I was always with my dad on the market. We did everything in cash. I can
remember walking around with a roll of bills as they say, “you could choke a hog
My dad was very good in figuring. Charles Dawes, who was later Vice President of
United States, had pneumonia and tuberculosis. He was at Houghton Lake,
Michigan. A man by the name of Anderson, a big plastering contractor, owned a
big ranch at Houghton Lake and was a personal friend of Charles Dawes. He had a
special open air house there where Dawes was sent for the treatment that was
popular then. Mr. Anderson taught my dad arithmetic. He was fantastic at
arithmetic. You could give my dad a string of figures and when you were through
he would give you the addition or subtraction. He taught a little bit of that to
me. You would take the round figures and then take the odd ones along with it
and you could work it out pretty well. My folks were at that ranch for two
years. My mother did the cooking. It was there that my brother, Henry, was born.
I was two years old and, of course, do not remember.
In Chicago my Grandfather Lich had four children and Grandfather Dorn had ten
children. They had rough going when they came to Holland. My dad grew up with a
group of guys around the stockyards. When he married my mother he was drinking a
little too much to suit Grandpa Dorn. Grandpa got hold of Mr. Anderson, the
plastering contractor, and asked him if he had a place for his son-in-law. He
needed a foreman on the ranch at Houghton Lake. Pa took the job and got
straightened out all right. When we went back to Chicago he got into the produce
I went to high school in Chicago. I went only two years because it was right
through the depression. I had a chance to get a job then with a fellow by the
name of Sam Muscaralla, an Italian guy. He had a route for delivery to stores
all over the South Side. We knew him at the market. He wanted to know if I would
drive truck for him, so I quit high school. At that time the banks were closing.
My mother was at a Ladies Aid meeting and heard that the Bain Banks of
Chicago---a big group of banks, were having problems. My folks had some money, a
nice new house in Chicago, I had $700 and my brother had $400. I remember
sitting around the table when my folks said maybe if we boys did not mind, we
could take that money out and make a payment on the house. Mama went there that
morning and drew that money out and at noon the bank closed. That was quite a
Shortly after that Nell and I got married. I worked for Sam Muscaralla. My dad
had begun to have ulcers and quit the market. He was elected Chief of Police at
Evergreen Park. He held that position through four administrations for fourteen
years. He did a good job at that. One time there was a truck for Arthur Dixon
Transfer Co., a big cartage company in Chicago, that came through Evergreen Park
with an overload. That was in 1934. Pa pinched them. They sent out a foreman to
see if they could fix the ticket and get the thing straightened out. Pa said
there was no fixing the ticket. They just had to get their trucks within the
After they talked and visited, the guy asked if there was anybody there that
would need a job. The Arthur Dixon Transfer Company had the complete cartage
contract for the World’s Fair. They moved everything into the Fair and they
moved everything out of the Fair---all the foreign villages went in there
through Dixon. A man by the name of Hibbard had that contract and he worked for
Arthur Dixon. Even every ice cream cone went through there. All the parts for
Ford Motor Company and Chevrolet (they made cars there at the fair) all went
At that time they had 400 teamsters who would haul freight from every railroad.
C. B. & Q., the I. C., Northwestern, Burlington---railroads from everywhere.
Dixon was a transfer company for freight. Frank Gary came out and talked to Pa.
Next day Pa asked if I wanted a job with Arthur Dixon. He told Pa I would not
get pushed around and I could go down there and get a job. I went there at age
18 and he put me on the job right off the bat. There were men there who had
worked 35 years. Often they would sit on the sidelines while I would get work.
We had no union at that time. Because I had a drag, I got a job.
He gave me a truck with five helpers and I hauled rolls of paper from the team
truck right underneath the Wrigley Tower where we would take it across the river
over to Popular Mechanics Magazine. It was the heavy paper that made the covers
for the magazines. We had five cars to empty a day. I had a great big Packard,
solid-tired truck. We would unload that---of course I was a pretty decent ball
player and when the printers started having their dinners from eleven o’clock to
two o’clock and played ball on their free time, I was in on the games. I had
what they called a steady house job, a prime job paying $54.50 per week and that
was a lot of money for those days.
Two years later in August Nell and I got married and I still had this steady
house job. In the meantime the union came in. There was a racketeer union, 705,
in Chicago. I have a withdrawal card from them I got when I moved to Michigan. I
voted for the union then. Frank Galvin was the head of the union. He was shot
and killed right on the steps of our building by a rival union. They assessed us
five bucks for flowers for him. The first of December the union went into effect
and with it the seniority lists applied. All that my seniority would get me then
was three half days a week. I would go down in the morning and there was nothing
to do. We would stay around until noon and then there were some tractor-semis
that would pull out. Three half days for the whole month of December was all I
had. There was no more favoritism with guys who had a drag like I had had.
Then I realized I could bump in on a city truck and go with a tractor and
semi-trailer from different railroads with trailer loads of stuff to another.
They would load trucks at night with stuff coming into Chicago to be delivered
to different stores. I got a south run with a pretty good sized Ford truck. I
would deliver goods to various stores all the way out to 135th St. or 140th St.
south and then I’d call back to the dispatcher and he would give me a few
pickups back into the city. That job paid $34.50 but that was better than three
half days a week.
Pa and I had heard that there was a man in Alto, Michigan who had quite a group
of men raising onions and we needed onions. My dad and I came out here and found
Floyd Hunt in 1934. We wanted only the small onions. There was a poor onion crop
here with a lot of small onions they could not sell. We wanted them for onion
sets. There were very few onion sets in Chicago. Onions less than 11/16th were
called over runs. I stayed with Floyd and Jane in Alto. We rented a store on
Main Street where we hired a group of people to screen the onions we bought from
the farmers. All the onions over an inch and one eighth we put in 10# bags and
took them to a warehouse in Chicago where they were sold to the onion set
people, who mixed them with onion sets and that made them a crop to sell. That
is how I got interested in this Michigan country.
I still remember going with Floyd south of Sunfield down where Bert Creitz lived
because he raised onions. His dad-in-law, Clarence Downing, had developed one of
the best strains of onion seed available and that Downing strain is used yet.
Just off Sunfield Highway where you hit M-50 and turn to your left and up a hill
there was an old man who raised some onions in a couple of pockets of muck. They
called him “Shifty-eyed Lumbert”. His eyes would shift back and forth all the
time. I’ll never forget that because it impressed me so much.
One of the things that brought me here to Sebewa was that at that time I lived
here with Floyd when we went all around buying onions and when we would come at
a farm at 11 o’clock in the morning to buy some onions and we would be talking
about the onions, the lady of the house would start making dinner and we had to
stay for dinner. I had never realized that kind of hospitality and friendship.
In Chicago you did not know the people who lived two doors away from you. That
friendliness really struck me.
There was a man over near Hastings by the name of Kaiser who had a hundred and
some acres of asparagus. He was selling it to a canning company in South Haven.
They cut him down to a cent and a half a pound. He had his neighbors raising
asparagus also. At that price they could not make anything of their crop. I was
then a 17-year-old kid. He came to Alto and asked me if I knew of a market for
that asparagus. I knew a beautiful market for it with Libby, McNeil & Libby, a
big canning company in Chicago. My dad came out to get a load of onions and I
was all excited about that asparagus crop. I felt that we could make a nice
living and we could pay those guys 2 ½ or 3 cents a pound and they could make a
living and we could get 5 or 6 cents a pound for it in Chicago. My dad said
“Kid, you know nothing about that. We’d have to have refrigeration trucks and
other equipment”. To my protest that we could buy it, it was, “No”. He couldn’t
One week end I went home and went to Libby, McNeil and Libby, saw the purchasing
agent on the seventh floor, told him my story and said I could get the “grass”
if you will buy it. He said, “I’ll take every bit of that you can bring here and
I’ll give you a contract for 5 ½ cents a pound.” I came back and my dad would
not listen to me. He could not see getting into that. I always had that in the
back of my mind. It was then I went to work for Sam Muscaralla and soon after
that for Dixon. The Dixon firm did not work on holidays. So, on a Washington’s
birthday we planned a visit to the Hunts. I had not seen Floyd, Jane, Bud and
their two daughters for some time. I was then married. I had written Hunts a
couple of times. The holiday happened to fall on a Friday and we were off until
Monday. On Thursday Nell and I drove out to Alto. They were glad to see us. On a
drive around the country I asked Floyd about the asparagus. We drive over to
Kaiser’s. There was some 20 acres of asparagus left. The rest had all gone back.
He was then selling to a place in Fennville and getting a fairly decent price
for it. In our ride around I said, “Boy, I sure wish I could farm”.
Floyd said, “You mean that?” I said, “I sure do, I would love to farm.” He asked
if I had any money and I had to reply I had none. I was working but we lived the
check. We stayed there that week end. Floyd said he would see what he could
On March 15 he wrote me a letter to the effect that the Depositors Corporation,
headed by Erm Garlinger, had foreclosed on a lot of the farms around here and
they had what was called the Wallace farm on the Clarksville Road next to Corey
VanDeBurg. Floyd owned the muck land across the road, now owned by DeBruyns. He
owned the 40 acres there and the “Rattle Snake Forty” back of that, back of
Patrick’s. Erm Garlinger had told Floyd that the Depositors Corporation wanted
to liquidate some of their holdings they had out here. He told Erm that he had a
young man in Chicago who wanted a piece of muck. There was a long 40 and a
square forty where Ken and Evelyn David now live. Floyd wrote saying he could
buy me a piece of muck right across from his forty for $1500 for the 80 acres.
It had a spring on the ditch there with a tile where you could get water. There
was an orchard, a well and a basement on the top of the hill a little further
south from David’s house.
The old Wallace farm had been abandoned as a dwelling and the “Swamp Angels”
used to play cards in the old house until they got wild one night and burned the
place down. On March 20 my dad and I and Nell and her mother came to Sebewa to
look at that place. I was all excited. I was going to build a garage-house on
that foundation and try to farm the muck. My dad said, “I don’t see how you can
do this”. It was spitting rain and snow and my mother-in-law was crying. We
walked back through the humps where the ditch had been cleaned out; went up
there and got them a drink from the spring; they thought I was crazy, I guess.
I said to Floyd, “I’ll buy it.” He said “How much have you got”. I said I could
raise a couple of hundred dollars. Would you believe this? He had a little farm
in Clarksville next to Timson’s Orchard southwest of Clarksville. He went to the
bank and put a mortgage on that 80 acres of ground and went to the Depositors
Corporation and bought this forty acres and then turned around and sold it to me
for $100 down and a hundred dollars a year until I paid for it. Floyd was more
than a father to me. He taught me everything I know about farming. I knew about
selling crops but nothing about raising them.
We drove down the hill and headed for Harry and Letha Patterson’s store.
Standing on the steps there was Carl Creighton, a boy twelve or thirteen years
old. I went up to him and told him who I was and that we had just bought the
Wallace farm. He said, “I’m your neighbor next door”. I asked him if he knew if
there was any place around here to rent. He pointed across the fields and said
that George Coe and his wife had just died. Their place was next to Ralph Coe
and maybe if I would talk to Ralph I could find out about the place.
We introduced ourselves to Ralph and had a nice little talk and I told him what
I wanted. He said, “I’ll show you the place.” All the furniture was in there
though the place had not yet been hooked up to electricity. He told me to go see
Rex Karcher, who was administrator for the place. We went to see Rex and
meantime Ralph had called Rex and told him to rent the place to me. On the way
over to Rex’s my dad had said that if we could rent the place for $30 a month it
would be better than trying to build something on the old Wallace foundation
while we were getting the crops in. Finally I asked Rex how much rent he would
have to have. He asked, “Is three dollars a month too much?” I agreed to wire
the house for $15 and that made me 5 months rent in advance.
Nell was pregnant with Johnny. We moved in the house. I worked for Floyd for a
dollar an hour and when I used his equipment on my land he charged me a dollar
an hour for that. Floyd also had the eighty acres of muck on Henderson Road.
The next year I filled the George Coe barn with onions and then moved them over
to Tannis’ Storage at Clarksville. One day, Floyd, acting very much the father
to me said, “You ought to have a hog”. He took me over to John Long’s west of
Clarksville where we bought a Duroc sow with five pigs, one for me and one for
Bud---$25 apience. Bud had six pigs and I had five pigs. I helped Ralph Coe and
Allen Cross and with what we could scrounge and with scraps from the table, I
raised that hog. At Christmas time we butchered those hogs---one for us and one
I took to my mother-in-law in Chicago.
One day Issi Fletcher came over. John Sargeant had lost his place to Issi
Fletcher. John had bought 20 acres across the road and couldn’t pay for it and
just turned it over to Issi. Issi asked how about me buying that land. I said
O.K. what is the price. He wanted $1800 for that forty acres. So I bought that
for $100 down and $100 a year until it was paid. Mrs. Henderleiter was at
Grandma Coe’s. She had a 40 acres on the back of the Sargeant 40. Grandma Coe
remembered a house back there on a knoll and she used to carry butter from a
well back there when she was a girl. She talked to Kitty Henderleiter on the
phone and told her about us as her neighbors. Kitty wanted to sell her 40 to us.
I went to see her and bought that from her for $1200. Then we lived in the
Sargeant house. The George Coe house was rented for a couple of years and then I
bought that forty from Mark Westbrook. That made me 120 acres on Henderson Raod
and the 80 on the Clarksville Road. Those two pieces joined on the corner of
Floyd’s 80. We arranged a legal right-of-way at that junction.
We moved here April 15, 1940. My uncle, Oliver Dorn, who was a truck gardener,
moved us with his nice new truck. I said to him “if I just had your truck.” I
knew where I could buy onions; Corey VanDeBurg was raising spinach and I could
sell these things in Chicago. Uncle Oliver said, “John, you’ve just got to slow
down a little bit. Just look at me. I’m 60 years old and I just got this truck”.
I never forgot that. I was full of steam and raring to go and here was Uncle
Ollie, who had worked and waited until he was 60 years old to get such a truck.
During war times here, labor was short. I organized a group of ladies---Wilma
Coe, Irene Hunt, Grace Bailiff, Dorothy Meyers---they all worked for me for a
number of years helping harvest our celery and onions.
One day I walked over to Fred Sindlinger’s---I had been working a few fields of
his place, Clyde Avery worked a couple of fields and Dale Shetterly worked a
couple of fields. I said, “Fred, would you sell me your farm”. He was concerned
as to where they would live. I explained that with a life lease they could
continue to live there as they had. Two weeks later I saw Fred walking toward
our house. He said they would like to go talk to attorney Douglas Welch about
selling. We made a deal where I would keep up the outside of the house and I
sunk a 21-foot well near the house. Nora had carried water from the spring
always before. They agreed to sell the place at $100 an acre with four per cent
(Editor’s note; Lucille Sindlinger Warren thinks that John “over-remembered” the
incident of the well for her parents. She says that her husband, Ken Warren,
augered the well in 1946 and a short time later installed a pressure pump and
the bathroom in the immediate postwar years when plumbing supplies were scarce.)
Fred Sindlinger was giving me a break by charging only four per cent interest
when he could as well have had six at that time. That included 340 acres. Fred
and Nora continued to live at the farm.
We farmed the muck crops all those years. For help we had Jamaicans, we had
prisoners of war, we had Mexicans and we had that group of local ladies who did
a beautiful job in harvesting our crops. All this time I was buying onions with
Floyd. He would buy onions until wintertime when he went to Florida. Then he
would give me $5,000 and say, “I have bought so many cars of onions at Sheridan,
Clarksville and Sunfield and you can take care of the shipping.” I would ship
them all winter, first by rail out of Lake Odessa, Clarksville or even Edmore.
Over the years the shipping was all turned to trucks. We had a broker at St.
Johns who would send out semis to haul them. McGuffy was at Gun Lake and he was
the guy we bought the onions for---Michigan Land Co.
Floyd would come back from Florida in the spring and I’d give him the $5,000
back and we would split the profit. That kept his business going and I had
something to do in winter, buying a lot of onions and getting to know a lot of
While Floyd was in Florida, he was always looking around for an opportunity. He
found 120 acres available on Lake Como. He bought that 120 acres for $40 an
acre. Then he wanted McGuffy and me to have a part of that because we were in
business together. By that time we had the truck crops and a few potatoes. Also
I had started in the hog business and had some sheep on the Sindlinger farm to
browse some of the fields we wanted to clear. Floyd asked Nell and me to come to
Florida to look at the Lake Como land. We got Nell’s parents to come here and
stay with the kids while we went to Florida for two weeks. Floyd said that Carl
McGuffy wanted the west side and I could take my choice of the middle or east
side. Floyd had talked of a kind of a park there. I said I would take the east
Floyd was a fantastic man. He said, “I’ll set a price on it of $4,000 for that
40 acres and put it on a 10-year contract with payments of $160. That amounts to
4% interest and all you pay me is that $160 for ten years and you will own the
place.” Later he died and made me administrator of his estate. I handled his
estate here and in Clarksville but in Florida it is required that the
administrator be blood relative, so Loretta finished it up there. A couple of
years later my contract was up and Vera and I went to see Loretta to pay her the
$4,000. She said that Floyd always said that when the contract was up I would
have the place and she would give me a deed to it. When Floyd died he did not
have it in his will that I was to have the place. But she insisted it was to be
that way. So then I told her that as long as she lived I would pay her $160 each
December and that is the way it has been.
The next year after Floyd bought the Florida land he got a bulldozer and cleared
the place. In 1956 after the November election here we took our whole family and
went to Florida for a month. We rented a house to stay in and we planted our
orange trees. Floyd had everything ready and he took care of the planting
afterward. When Floyd died, Carl took care of the grove for a while. When I quit
farming I took care of the oranges, including Carl’s, for now he is 87 although
he still helps at it.
We went to Florida the first time for a week, the next time for two weeks. I
would have to arrange my hog farming so that they were not pigging when we
wanted to go.
Charlie Colby, the Clarksville banker, got 40 acres adjoining us at Lake Como
and he put a little house on it. It was arranged so that one month we could have
it, another he would be there and one month his sister, Leona, who worked in his
bank, would be there. That took up January, February and March. Finally in 1967
we built our A frame house. All the kids came down and helped. Don and Elaine
Nash, Kendall Cross---our kids---we once had fifteen there helping with the
We stayed farming here until Nell got sick. The A frame was 24’ x 24’. The
timbers we got in Tampa where they had come by boat from Oregon. I spent the
summer collecting materials for building and finally loaded the big truck with
all those things for the building. The main timbers we had planed and then gave
them a varnish finish before we erected them. We had bought here a bent (100
sheets) of plywood from Sherm. We built that house from February 5 to April 5.
Neil Huizenga came and helped me. The next year we brought the furniture we had
collected and even had a tractor on that load. I still use that tractor in the
When Nell got sick I was still farming but the livestock were gone and the
farming was all corn, wheat and soy beans. By that time we were six months here
and six months in Florida. I had had the mix-mill business. Allen Cross had
helped me put the mills up all over the state. That was kind of petering out and
I didn’t want to be away from home that much anymore.
Nell passed away and I was here by myself. Then one of my nephews married one of
Vera’s daughters. They asked me to come to Chicago in the fall and asked me how
I was getting along. I had to admit I was pretty much by myself. The new bride
said, “I sure wish you could meet my mother. She is in California by herself.”
Nell’s sister said, “She’s a real nice lady.” She gave me her name and address
and telephone number and said, “Now it’s up to you”.
So finally I called her one time and I went out there and met Vera. I don’t know
how the Lord ever did that. She has been a wonderful wife. We tried to farm the
first year. I didn’t want to move in the house where Nell and I had lived, so I
sold that to Joyce and Rich Tuitman. Joyce was Nell’s favorite niece. John and
Shirley were living in Nora’s house since Nora died; Ken and Evelyn David were
living at Coats Grove; Linda was working in Grand Rapids so none of the children
wanted the place. We bought a motor home and parked between the pine trees on
the old Sindlinger farm. That summer we planted the crops and Vera enjoyed it
but she was never a farm girl. We had a wedding invitation from a nephew in
California. John offered to harvest the wheat, leaving the corn and soy beans
for me to handle when we came home.
While we were idling at Laguna Beach I said to Vera, “The bloom of farming is
all off now”. Everything on the farm was what Nell and I had done together. We
were reading THE BANNER, our church magazine. In it was an ad asking for an
agriculturist for a mission in Mexico. Before Vera went to California she had
worked for the BACK TO GOD HOUR as the Spanish secretary for the Spanish
speaking minister. Because she was born in Italy and knew Italian, they had sent
her to school to learn Spanish as a Secretary. She knew Spanish well.
We talked it over and I called the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids people knew me from my association with the Portland Christian
Reformed Church. They had sent a missionary to Mexico and he had started little
churches. The people there were hungry. If you asked a woman how many children
she had, she would list five dead and four living or three dead and two living,
on that order. The missionary had asked for the Church to send some
agriculturists. A young fellow from Michigan State University and one from Ohio
State University were there. They wanted them to teach the Mexicans to raise
crops. They got into the land that had once been home to the Mayas. It was
beautiful land but all grown up and they had to bulldoze it all down. They were
going to buy a big D 8 Caterpillar tractor for $150,000. I said I had had a
couple of Caterpillars when I was on the farm. They asked if I would go down
there and volunteer a couple of years to get the project on the road. We said,
John and Johnnie came running over to our motor home on the Sindlinger place on
the motorcycle for coffee one day. I said, “We have decided we are going to quit
farming, would you like to buy the place?”
John replied, “Yes, Dad, I’d like to keep it in the units.” We had all the ASC
acreage allotments and to transfer it would not break up the arrangement. John
said, “I would like to have it.”
By that time Ken and Evelyn wanted to buy the original 80 acres. So they were
over there at Coats Grove and bought the Wallace eighty; John bought this here;
Larry got a piece on Bippley Road and Linda got some money; she lives in Grand
Rapids. With that taken care of, we took off.
In February we flew to Mexico to see what we had to do. After I saw the kind of
trees they had there I thought I could get by with a brand new D 4 Caterpillar
tractor. That would cost only $40,000. I was risking that my judgment might be
wrong. We bought the new Cat in Peoria, Illinois, had it shipped to Mexico City
and moved it on to Merida where we put it in a garage. We put it in a shop after
we arrived there in April and had a cab welded on the tractor and put rippers on
the blade like Phil Spitzley had, so that when he backed up it would rip the
roots out. We hired a truck and had the tractor hauled 150 miles into the bush
to a little town 25 miles inland from the Yucatan city of Campeche on the Gulf
of Mexico. We went there. They started a cooperative of 22 men. The idea was to
give each of them two hektares (5 acres) of cleared land and in turn they had
two haktares that they worked for the Church. Cal Lubbers was the agriculturist.
He told me the rains would come on May 15 though it was still dry in April.
We started bulldozing at 110 degrees in the heat of the day. I worked there
every day at that. I called for some help. They sent me a man from Grand Rapids,
a young fellow who was attending Reformed Bible College. He was from Iowa. His
father had an Oliver business and the boy had run a Caterpillar in Iowa. He came
to Mexico and he would take over the Cat when I would leave and do a little more
before I came to work in the morning. I had a big John Deere disc to chop up the
soil and we had a piece of railroad steel we dragged behind the disc to level
the ground. The rains did not come until June. We got sixty some acres of land
ready for the 22 men.
I trained two men, one 22 years old and one 34 years old to run that tractor.
They learned how to drain the oil, how to use the hour-meters and keep watch of
the filters. We have gone back there every year since we were there in 1973-74.
We bought the motor home and took it to the project rather than living in a
house where I would have to drive to reach the place. The Church paid our
expenses though we volunteered our time.
Vera was asked to teach the Maya people to speak Spanish so they could sell
their crops in the market. They knew some Spanish but they could not talk or
figure in the market place. Vera went with me three days a week to the village
to teach Spanish. Their animals were kept in the villa a mile away from the crop
land. There were seven Maya temples that the government was unaware of. The boys
had dug around in them a couple of years before we got there because they had
heard that the Gringos wanted stuff out of there. They said all they got was
some broken pottery because much earlier, the Spaniards had looted the
Today they have sold the Caterpillar and they have two big John Deere tractors.
They have five irrigation wells and 600 acres under cultivation. They are
raising corn, soy beans and peanuts. Their diet had been mostly corn, all
carbohydrates, and I was trying to teach them to grow some crops with protein.
Now they have a great big granary made of posts with a raised floor to protect
it from rats. All their corn is shelled and placed in big coffee bags. They are
a grain exporting community now. Instead of 22 families in the cooperative there
are now forty.
The next year we went into the mountains in Wahakah (spelling?). There were
coffee growers there. They wanted us to teach them to raise some variety of
crops. I had a garden plot there. A Mexican doctor loaned his tractor for
fitting it. We were there a year helping them raise hogs and chickens. We got a
hog setup going that has worked into a big deal for their supplementary income.
For all the good experience of farming in Sebewa and all our many friends there,
the mission work in Mexico has been the most rewarding thing the both of us have
every experienced. You can imagine the friends you make. We have had people from
there come to Florida to visit us and we go back there to visit and keep up our
contacts with the projects.
We had quite a decision to make a year ago. The Church wanted an agriculturist
to go to Bangaladesh. We struggled with that for three months. I would have
liked to have gone but they wanted a commitment of six years and at our age that
seemed overwhelming. They also have a project in Sierra Leone in Africa. Perhaps
some younger people can take on those jobs while we help support them as we can.
John Lich, Lake Como, Florida 32057