Bartholomew County’s only recipient of the Hoosier Grandchildren Award, this spring wants to continue its family farm of 116 years as an agricultural operation well into the future.
“The bottom line is that more real estate is being drained by subdivisions and commercial developments,” said Centenary award-winner Donna Calvin Browne. “And when you develop a farm, it never goes back to agriculture.”
But with the third-generation family turning 84 this month and no heirs in sight, the retired dean of schools at East Columbus High School admits he’s not sure how to get what he wants.
This account of the family and the farm is from interviews with Brown, as well as articles in the Evening Republican, the predecessor to The Republic.
The founder of the 100 acre farm at 10712 East County Road 50N was Donna’s grandfather, Frank Tooley (born June 4, 1876). He married Nellie Mae Morledge on Feb. 23. 1896. Six years after their marriage, their first child, Grace Tooley, was born on Oct. 17, 1902.
The establishment of the stable took place on August 13, 1907. Frank Tooley had previously purchased the property known as the Francis T. Crump estate of Elisha Davis. The price was $75 an acre, with a total value of $10,125.
While attending church, Grace Tooley met and became engaged to Greenwood native Sam Calvin, who was born on November 3, 1900.
Sam Calvin postponed the wedding for years due to financial reasons, but finally changed his mind and married Grace Tooley on March 20, 1929. Sam Calvin’s worst financial fears came when the stock market collapsed seven months after the wedding and the Great Depression hit.
In 1930, Grace gave birth to the son Sam had longed for, but the boy was tragically miscarried, Browne said. In addition to the sadness and loss of the baby, Grace later had to contend with the death of her mother. Nellie Mae Tooley died at the age of 61 in 1936.
With the country in economic chaos, Sam Grace said he could not provide another mouth to feed and held on to that position for most of the 1930s. But with the Great Depression coming to an end, Grace Calvin gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Donna, on April 12, 1939.
About the same time Calvin bought the farm. Both the Tooley and Calvin families lived in the farmhouse built in 1868. While the interior of the 1,920-square-foot house has been remodeled several times, the house has never been expanded, Browne said.
The family raised hogs for fattening, as well as about 40 cows, Browne said, on a dairy farm. He also added corn, soybeans and wheat, as well as straw and medicine for livestock.
At first, the family used a planter to plow two rows of corn for two horses named Dick and Jane, Browne recalls. Finally, Sam Calvin was able to purchase a small Ford tractor.
There were no conveniences in the house built in 1868. At first, the only sources of heat were the kitchen and the coal stove, Browne said.
Finally, my father dug a cellar under the house and put it in the fireplace, he remembers. “But we didn’t have electricity for many years. In my grade school I had to make do with a kerosene lamp.
There was also no running water for several decades leaving the family with no choice but to use the toilets. But the system used the mill to make the water more suitable, Browne said.
Since her parents had no other children, Grace and Donna became farmers and worked under Sam’s guidance. All three ended up dirty and hot at the end of the day, so the family had to fill up the tank in the morning and hope the water temperature would be bearable by the end of the day, Browne said. He added that he was always allowed to take a bath first, then his mother and father.
Eventually, electric lines were extended to the area while Donna was attending 10-year-old Petersville Elementary School. A few years later, the town’s founder, Frank Tooley, died after a long illness at the age of 74 in 1951.
Donna Calvin excelled in 4-H, winning honors in everything from baking and cooking to creating electrical displays, according to news reports. But his lifelong ambition became an educator.
After graduating from Columbus High School in 1957, Donna Calvin earned an undergraduate degree from Franklin College and a master’s degree in education from Indiana University in 1971. It was the same year that her father died at age 74 of a heart attack.
His death prompted him to disperse the farm to neighboring farmers. Although Grace and Donna milked the cows for a few months after Sam’s death, they sold the cows in October.
As a teacher, Browne taught for 12 years at Jefferson Elementary School, 1209 Chestnut St. and three years in what was then Jr. Northside High School for three years.
Donna Calvin transferred to Columbus East High School in the fall of her second post-graduate degree in the ministry of trustees to become a guidance counselor. She was eventually promoted to Dean of Students.
In 1995, Donna decided to rent the old farm and she and her mother moved to Columbus. While there were times when the old house was vacant, Browne said the current renters have been there since October 2003.
Grace would live to be 99 until her death on January 12, 2002. Her death made Donna the sole owner of the family stable.
After Donna Calvin retired in the mid-1990s that Edmond Browne on Oct. 9 In 2005, he joined the First Baptist Church of Indianapolis. He is a 91-year-old marketing representative for Damar Bank Products.
When she reflected, Donna Browne said it was the only piece of land that many people wanted to buy over the decades. Offers started in the 1950s by a realtor who refused to say what the buyer wanted to do, Donna Browne said. While the same Realtor offers more, he declined to disclose the buyer’s plans.
It was only in the barber shop that Donna Browne’s father heard a conversation about plans to develop a race course in the area. When he brought it to the Realtor, Sam Calvin received confirmation that the clients wanted the land for what was Otter Creek Golf Course, Browne said.
Sam and Grace Calvin looked at seven properties located in five different counties, but ultimately decided not to sell the tents. They also refused to sell several times when developers wanted to build a residential neighborhood next to the course. Their daughter seems to have the same values.
“We had to work this farm because so many of us were getting close to selling,” Donna said. “We turned down all the offers because we wanted to keep our farm property. There’s only so much land, and if we lose it all, you’re going to be in trouble.
The Hoosier Grandsons Awards
The Hoosier Grandchildren Award Program administered by the state Department of Agriculture recognizes family farms that have been owned by the same family for 100 years or more.
Established in 1976, the program recognizes the contributions these family farms have made to Indian economic, cultural and social outcomes. Over the past 45 years, more than 5,800 farms have received the honor.
The following Indian family farms are called:
Centennial Award – 100 years of ownership
Sesquicentennial Award – 150 years of ownership
Bicentennial Award – 200 years of ownership