Who owns the 200,000+ acres of prime Iowa land that helped finance the beginnings of Iowa State University? ISU Extension and Outreach is connecting with landowners and telling their stories.
Here are three of those stories.
Bob Butcher (A)(’74 animal science) of Holstein, Iowa, attended the ISU Extension and Outreach Land-Grant Legacy celebration at the Clay County Fair in 2016 thinking it might be interesting. What he didn’t know was how involved he would become in the project.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just see what this is about.’ They were talking about different farms that were legacy farms, and they said, ‘Come back and look at the map of where all these farms are.’ So, I went back there thinking maybe I’d know somebody or at least a neighboring county, but the closer I got, I’m like, ‘There’s Hwy. 20, there’s 59, and that’s kind of where we are,’ and I got closer and closer, and then I was looking at the township map and we’re three down and two over and it was just unbelievable! The whole section lit up where we live.”
The Butcher family has owned land-grant parcels in Ida County since 1901 when Bob’s great-grandfather, Robert L. “Jake” Butcher purchased the land.
Bob’s father, Robert, and mother, Betty, raised pure-bred hogs on the farmland, then added a dairy herd and sold milk. They had two chicken houses, selling both the eggs and the chickens.
“We were diversified,” Betty said. At age 90, she’s still regarded as the best cook in the family.
Bob and his two sisters, Renea Ogren (’80 home ec ed) and Ronda Edwards (’85 dietetics), grew up on the farm.
“It was a typical farm,” Bob says. “We had cows and chickens.”
“And lambs and a big garden,” Renea adds.
“Dad was progressive.”
Both siblings give credit to 4-H and to Iowa State. The Butchers are Cyclones through and through: Bob has four children, all of whom graduated with ISU degrees – Katie Merrill (A)(’02 logistics), Wendy Weber (’04 elem ed), Andrew Butcher (’08 ag studies), and Ben Butcher (’10 ag studies). He has eight grandchildren and is married to Connie Butcher.
Bob and his two sons run a cattle operation, and he’s also president and CEO of Community Bank in Holstein. Long involved on the 4-H Foundation Board and with other community projects in Holstein, Bob also took the lead in bringing together landowners in Ida County to help ISU Extension and Outreach identify the land-grant parcels in their area.
“We invited all the landowners in Ida County that owned legacy land, and there were lots of them,” Bob said. “We probably had 50 or 60 people there.”
Ida County is the first Iowa county to have all of its land-grant landowners identified.
Helen Logan Maxwell’s father instilled in her that if you had Iowa land you’d probably never go hungry.
Helen’s family owned land in Iowa’s Woodbury County, but didn’t farm it themselves. They lived in the town of Moville, where her father, Charlie Logan, was a local banker. He purchased the land after the Great Depression and paid farm workers to
raise crops, hogs, and cattle.
Helen (L) attended Iowa State, graduating in 1951 with a degree in child development. She met Earl “Doc” Maxwell (L) on campus; he earned a DVM in 1949, and the couple married in 1951. They settled in Moville and bought land from Helen’s father. Doc set up a veterinary practice, while Helen kept the family’s books and worked in the local bank.
They had four children – Stee Maxwell (L)(’78 DVM), Chantry DeVries (L)(‘78 English & history), Tad Maxwell (L) (’80 ag biz), and Reed Maxwell – and were named ISU Parents of the Year in 1977.
But despite the family’s close connection to Iowa State, it came as a total surprise that the land that had been in the family for more than 70 years was a part of the university’s land-grant legacy.
“We got a call from Iowa State saying they wanted to come up here,” Helen explained. “They wanted us to get the deed out because they thought we might be one of the ones” who owned a land-grant parcel.
And, in fact, the first page of the abstract recited the Morrill Act.
“It’s right in the deed, and that’s the first we ever knew of it,” Doc said.
“They were really excited to see it right in the deed,” Helen continued. “We didn’t have a clue. If my father was alive, I’d know a lot more. I think my dad would be real proud that he purchased this farm.”
For Pam Holt Doolittle, who went to Iowa State some 50 years ago, it was one thing to know she was attending a land-grant university, but quite another to own a piece of its history.
“You knew and you always heard it was a land-grant college, but you never really knew what it meant,” she said. “It’s been interesting finding that out, and to now be part of it is really neat.”
Pam (’67 sociology) married Dennis Doolittle (attd. ’62-66), whose father, Don, owned the first land-grant parcel deeded in Hamilton County. Dennis farmed the land beginning in 1969. Son Eric graduated from Iowa State in 1996 in ag business and took over the farming business that year.
“I never wanted to be a farmer,” Eric said. “I went to Iowa State, and halfway through college I decided to farm. I guess once you live in town for a while you realize how much you want out of it. That’s kind of how I felt.”
Eric’s younger brother, Grant, graduated from Iowa State in 1999 in liberal studies and is a physician in Ames.
Krystal Doolittle, Eric’s wife, did not attend Iowa State, but she’s become an integral part of the ISU Extension and Outreach Land- Grant Legacy project. An active advocate for agriculture, she’s provided stories, photography, and videography for the project’s website.
“When the Extension staff came out and met with Eric and me and Eric’s uncle and grandfather, I snapped some pictures and asked if I could write a blog post about it because I thought it was kind of a neat story,” Krystal said. “Then they said they were looking for somebody who is a part of one of the land-grant farms to help tell the story, so it worked out really well.”