Broege was active on farm, in community

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Wednesday, July 2, 2014

TOWN OF LA PRAIRIE—Elton Broege was a farmer until the last moment of his life.

On Friday evening, Broege, 91, asked his son Paul about the size of the latest milk check.

“I told him not to worry about it,” Paul said. “But he wanted to know.”

Broege, 91, died Saturday at St. Elizabeth's Manor, Footville, after a life filled to the brim—and overflowing—with community service.

Broege was born in 1922, and his youth was filled with the hallmarks of rural life: working on the farm with his grandfather and father, taking part in 4-H, showing animals and other projects at the annual fair.  He also pursued a number of leadership roles within the 4-H club and the county.

In 1940, he was named “outstanding 4-H boy in Rock County” and later was named one of the state's four best junior leaders.

Instead of attending the UW-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course, Broege pursued a four-year degree, majoring in animal husbandry.

“That was a big deal back then,” Paul Broege said.

Elton Broege's college career was interrupted by his service in World War II, but he returned to school and received his degree in 1948.

Broege and Marilyn Mabie married in 1950, and he threw himself into farming.

He was an early adopter of artificial breeding, trying different crop varieties and irrigation, said Dick Towns, retired Edgerton dairy farmer.

“He was innovative,” Towns said. “He was just up on it all.”

In 1957, a headline in The Janesville Gazette announced, in all capital letters, “History repeats itself” followed by “Elton Broege is Named Outstanding Young Farmer by the Junior Chamber.”

Noting that Broege had been the “outstanding 4-H Boy,” 17 years earlier, the story describes the farm: “He purchased the farm ten years ago ... Since then, he has erected a 40-by-80 foot loafing shed for dry cows and young stock, and a modern milk house equipped with a bulk cooler.”

"His Holstein herd of 41 cows ... almost all purebred, average more than 400 pounds of butterfat in 1956," the story reads.

Broege had “greatly improved the soil fertility on his land over the 10 years, through liming and fertilizing and following a crop five-year rotation plan.”

The story also lists paragraph after paragraph of community service including  fair board president, rural chairman for the Janesville Community Chest, director of the Holstein Friesian Association and treasurer of the La Prairie Consolidated School District.

Broege continued to serve throughout his life, taking leadership positions in a variety of organizations, including the Rotary Club, the Pure Milk Association, the board of First Congregational Church, the Janesville Area Chamber of Commerce board and La Prairie Town Board, where he was chairman for six of the 16 years he served.

He was especially proud of his work on the Rock County 4-H Fair Board, serving as its president and “superintendent” of the entertainment committee, Towns said.

Through it all, Broege was a farmer, expanding and modernizing. By 1981, the family had 125 acres of crops and was milking about 94 cows. The family's three sons, Garit, Paul and Steve had assumed the milking chores, while their parents were responsible for the calves and the bookkeeping. 

“I don't know if I've been promoted or demoted,” Broege joked at the time.

Now, the farm has more than 1,110 acres and the family milks 400 cows.

Paul said his father could be stubborn, set in his ways. But at the same time, he was willing to acknowledge when a change might work.

“I remember when we pulled all the tin off the side of the barns because we needed more ventilation,” Paul Broege said. “He wasn't happy about it, but he came around.”

In 2010 and 2011, Steve and Garit Broege died within seven months.

“To lose one son is bad enough, but two?” Paul Broege said, his voice trailing off.

In the past few years, the elder Broege had lost most of his eyesight, but he still wanted to be close to the farming operations.

“His mind was really sharp,” his son said.

Sometimes, Paul would get several calls a day from his dad.

“I'd be out on the tractor and he'd be calling me, Paul Broege said.

The elder Broege wanted to know how the crops were doing or if there were any problems with milk production or quality.

His son would drive him through the barns, so he would be  involved with the life he built but could no longer see.

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