This past Easter weekend, I went back to Nebraska to visit family. Telling stories and digging into history, I came upon an amazing story about my hometown, Dwight and how the farming families came together to help each other out in a time of need.
Picture this. It's 1921, you live in a rural town of 310 farming families. A small, devout, resourceful, but comparatively poor Bohemian (predominately Catholic) town. Fulfilling the call and need for a new school, a building is built for $120K. You get the keys to the building, along with a massive debt you know there is no way you can repay. What do you do?
Here is one solution that this small town came up with.
In 1938, under the idea and leadership of the Rev. Benedict B. Bauer, 175 parishioners came together to raise the money and do their part with what they do best. Farming.
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Each year, 120 farmers volunteered to set aside 1 acre of corn for the church. This acre was cared for, prayed for, blessed and looked upon diligently and called "God's Acre." At harvest time, a date was set by Father Bauer for farmers and their families to bring their harvest to the church.
The day started off with a solemn mass of thanksgiving and a blessing over the first offerings. Then came the excitement.
Two corn cribs were set up outside the church and filled to overflowing capacity. The farmers continued to bring in their acre of harvest. Some families bringing in more than one acre, depending on how good the yields were that year.
A Solemn high mass of thanksgiving was held to start off God's Acres day.
Days later, cattle feeders would come in and bid in an open auction. Believing that blessed corn would bring blessings upon their cattle and knowing it was for a good cause, the price bid was almost always higher than the market price.
According to a short write up over the event, in 1939 the market was at 48 cents a bushel. The open auction brought it to 52 cents a bushel. That year, the church brought in $875 on 1,651 bushels of corn.
The communal gathering of harvest went on for a few years until the school debt was paid off. But "God's Acre" continued on well after that debt. Most would remember it in the form of an annual fall duck dinner. A few years back, that fall duck dinner turned into an extra collection taken at mass.
Today, many people give to the annual fall "God's Acres" collection, but some farmers have kept tradition and will haul bushels of grain to the elevator and put it in the church's name as a donation.
(photos by E.K. Langevin)