Heartache in the heartland

Heartache in the heartland While an auctioneer works to secure bids, Stanley Peterson holds signs Tuesday expressing his feeling about the auction sale of his family's farm. by David Lias Stanley Peterson had dreams of someday staking a claim on the farm that had been in his family since his grandparents homesteaded on the land in the late 1800s.

But he and other members of his family didn't see eye-to-eye when it came to settling the estate.

Eventually, the courts became involved, and ordered the matter settled through an auction.

Tuesday morning, local farmers interested in purchasing the property lined their pickups along the intersection of two gravel roads nine miles north and three miles west of Vermillion.

As the auctioneer sought bids for three parcels of the Peterson family's land, Stanley Peterson made sure everyone knew how he felt about the proceedings.

He protested.

He held hand-painted picket signs. One read, "This farm sale is not God's will." The other one stated, "Unethical government officials are destroying family farms."

"The reason I wanted to buy the family farm was to rebuild the building site and also for posterity," Peterson said after the sale.

Peterson's grandparents, Samuel and Martha Peterson, were hard-working and productive, he said. They borrowed money to expand the farm, and in circumstances somewhat similar to this week's, had to sell it at a sheriff's auction during the Great Depression.

The new owners of the farm let the Peterson family stay on the farm as sharecroppers. "During this period, my father paid back several thousand dollars of my grandfather's debt," Peterson said.

In the early 1950s, Peterson's father purchased the farm. Peterson said he and his brothers helped his father raise hogs and dairy cattle.

In 1966, Peterson enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and was honorably discharged in 1970.

"My brother Sterling and his wife, Virginia, came home from Milwaukee in 1967 and did an excellent job of farming the land and increasing the productivity, making the land payments easier," he said.

Peterson returned home and began working at a local factory while helping with the livestock on the farm.

"I was honored and happy to help pay off the final payments in February 1974," he said. "The farm was back in the Peterson family's possession."

He admits that settling an estate properly isn't an easy process.

"In September of 2003 I suggested that the farm stay in the family, and we worked something out so one or two of us could buy the rest out," Peterson said. "Most of the parties involved were in agreement. I think we would have made that agreement if the court had not ordered a sale.

"One of my observations through this whole ordeal is that people have both good and bad in them," he said. "It brought out some good in me and also unfortunately some bad. I regret that I lost my temper once in a plea to settle this matter without a public auction."

He doesn't regret protesting during the auction, even though he knows other members of his family were in favor of the sale.

"It was something that I had to do," Peterson said.

He advises other farm families to avoid similar situations.

"All family matters should be settled within the family," he said.

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