Gentleman farmer close to land and community
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent February 17, 2013 4:52PM
Updated: March 19, 2013 6:12AM
Emmett Severson of Elwood spent his childhood farming behind a team of horses in Grundy County and most of his adult life working on farms. In the late 1960s, when he was a member and officer of the Will County Farm Bureau, Emmett even met with the secretary of agriculture in Washington, D.C., to discuss farming issues.
But more important to Emmett than the act of farming itself was the community-building it produced, deep bonds with other individuals that went further than the daily tasks of raising cattle and growing soybeans and corn, as well as bales of alfalfa for the livestock.
“He patronized the local businesses,” said Emmett’s son, John Severson of Elwood. “He’d buy one implement from one dealer and something else from another guy. Back in the day, the main point in farming was helping your neighbors. When a man needed his corn crib emptied out, everyone grabbed a shovel and headed on over there.”
The fourth of eight children born to Norwegian immigrants, Emmett farmed in Jackson Township until his retirement in 1992 at the age of 77, the farm where John currently lives. Emmett also assisted at many other area farms, including one at the site where Joliet West High School currently stands.
“While he was working that farm, he saw a couple of houses being built and he ended up buying the last house on Glenwood Avenue, right across the street from where Joliet West is at,” John said. “We watched the high school and hospital go up. Glenwood Avenue was just a gravel road then.”
Because Emmett’s wife Irene wanted to live in Joliet, Emmett was a “gentleman farmer,” one that traveled to his farm each day to carry out its duties. John worked that farm, too. While growing up, John remembers feeding cattle and making sure troughs did not freeze in the winter.
Emmett still found time for membership with the Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Elwood Sportsmans Club. John understood how much his father loved farming, although Emmett never actually verbalized it.
“He was the classic Norwegian guy that didn’t talk much,” John said. “He was like the old joke: ‘Ollie loved Margo so much, he almost told her.’ But I do remember him saying how, back in the ’20s or ’30s, a lightning strike burned a barn and killed some of the horses. That was a traumatic experience for him. He remembered the horses’ names.”
Emmett did have interests beyond farming. For instance, his religious faith was so strong, it transcended denominations. Although he grew up Norwegian Lutheran, Emmett followed his Irish Catholic wife’s preferences. Emmett, a former member of the Knights of Columbus, proudly ushered at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Joliet for more than 35 years.
“Ask anyone who ever knew this guy,” John said. “He was one of the most graceful and gentle people you’d ever know.”
When Emmett stopped driving at the age of 92, John, a retired carpenter, assumed the chauffeur’s role and eventually insisted his father live with him, which Emmett did, up until the day of his death on Dec. 16 at the age of 97.
“I told him, ‘You were born on a farm and you should die on a farm,’ ” John said. “And I had the blessing of taking care of my dad in his later years. It was as good for him as it was for me.”
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.