VALORIE EVERSOLE - Daily Union Staff Writer
SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
Just north of Stewardson-Strasburg High School stands a barn on which the school’s senior class is recognized.
That tradition was started in 1963 by a man living on his grandfather’s homestead.
Today William “Bill” Brehmer’s grandson Gary co-owns the farm with his twin sister Shary Brehmer Yackey and carries on the tradition.
The Brehmer farm, located in Prairie Township on Route 32 between Strasburg and Stewardson, was recognized as a centennial farm in 1972 by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The land itself has been in the family since 1870.
Charles (Carl) Brehmer, an immigrant from Prussia (Germany), came to Shelby County in the mid-1800s where he bought 80 acres of land. In a few years the farm grew to 240 acres which thrived with grain and livestock. The land was eventually split between his sons William J. and Frederick “Fritzy”.
The 120 acres William J. inherited remains in the family. The land was passed on to his son William “Bill”, grandson Charles and finally to his great-grandchildren Gary and Shary.
Gary owns 40 acres and Shary, with her husband John, owns 80 acres. Gary farms both parcels.
Gary also lives in the home that has been passed down through the generations since his great grandfather William J. His grandfather and father were both born in the home.
“This is the original home, but it has also has gone through some changes. The original front porch is now closed in as another room and the back porch has been removed, a basement dug, and an addition built,” Gary said.
But the history of the home has its own story to tell. There is still a patch in the ceiling of one of the downstairs rooms where Gary’s father Charles and his brother fell through after jumping off the beds.
Gary moved into the home in 1975 and shares it with his wife Mary Lou, a teacher at Main Street School in Shelbyville. They raised their two sons, Seth and Zed, in the home. With the home in the family, Bill and and his wife Freida willingly moved into the village of Strasburg where they lived out their lives.
“It was the only way Grandpa would move to town,” Gary said.
The land shares history with nearby Strasburg. William J. was one of the founders of the Grace Lutheran Church in Strasburg. When the church decided to build a bigger structure in Strasburg, the old church building was physically moved by horses to the Brehmer land.
“My grandfather used it as a machine shed,” Gary said.
Although the church building is no longer standing on the property, other buildings from the homestead’s early days remain - a barn, brick building, glazed block building, old shed, and chicken house.
A Brehmer ancestor is buried on the farmland.
“I remember seeing the marker that said ‘Brehmer’ when I was younger, but I don’t know who it is,” Gary said. “When the drainage work was done by the township, the grave was buried and I can’t find it now.”
Gary and Shary both remember spending a lot of time with their grandparents helping with farmwork after school and on weekends.
“They worked from sun up to sun down. They were always doing something,” Gary said.
“Grandma had a big, big garden with lots of vegetables - all they could use for the winter,” Shary said.
“Grandpa had a two-row planter. He would get up at the crack of dawn and get 10 acres planted by dinner. Now, with today’s equipment, I can do that much in one hour,” Gary said.
The farm family would butcher their own meat, which Gary described as a “day-long art.”
Shary said that their grandparents would take them to Von Baron’s grocery store in nearby Herborn where they would be treated to either pop or candy - “but not both.”
“Grandma and Grandpa always favored Gary,” Shary teased.
Charles Brehmer incorporated a dairy business for more than 50 years. Gary carried on the dairy business until recent years.