Neighbors for more than a century
RICHMOND TOWNSHIP--Floyd and Flora Helling cannot see their neighbor's house from their farm at the bend in Territorial Road.
But they know Georgia Kestol-Bauer is not far away.
Before Georgia moved into her family's historic home, Floyd often cleaned up fallen tree limbs on her farm after wind storms. Much of the time, Georgia didn't even know Floyd had done her a favor.
He's had a lot of practice at being neighborly.
The Helling and Kestol families have been neighbors in Walworth County for 115 years—and counting. At a time when many people don't even know their neighbors, the two families share a connection that spans generations.
“I feel I could come over if I needed anything, and I would be welcome” Georgia said.
Ask 88-year-old Floyd what makes a good neighbor, and he will point to Georgia.
“She is always concerned about us,” he said.
Last year, Floyd and Flora celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Elkhorn.
“Georgia came, but some of the other neighbors never showed up,” Floyd said. “It isn't neighborly like it used to be.”
But one thing remains strong: his family's long relationship with the Kestols, reaching back to the late 19th century.
Floyd's grandparents Carl and Minnie Helling settled the farm in 1898 after coming from Pomerania. They built a home in 1916 that was way ahead of its time with a flush toilet and a Delco power plant in the basement for electricity.
Later, Floyd's father and mother—Ernest and Amanda Marie—lived in the home, where Floyd was born.
Eventually, Floyd married Flora in 1962, after meeting her at a wedding. They became the next generation to live on the farm, where they milked Holsteins until 1998.
Georgia did not grow up on her family's farm, which dates to the mid-19th century.
Instead, she bought the Kestol homestead after her uncle Joey Kestol moved off the land in 1992, and it appeared no one in the family wanted the 1851 house, surrounded by soaring locust trees.
As a child, Georgia often visited the farm, where she watched Joey work with his team of horses. Joey never changed much in the house, which had no indoor plumbing or central heating when Georgia bought it.
Still, Georgia, who describes herself as sentimental to a fault, could not let the farm be sold.
She restored the old home, board by board and room by room, and she kept it true to its original personality. Throughout the house, she lovingly displays photos of four generations of Kestols, beginning with her great-grandparents Peter and Anne Kestol, who were Norwegian immigrants. The home also includes family furniture and belongings that parents have handed to children since before the Civil War, including a family Bible from Norway.
Floyd remembers Georgia's Uncle Joey well.
“He could run like a deer when his cows got out,” Floyd said. “He also cut a lot of wood.”
Joey cut so much wood in his lifetime that 71-year-old Georgia's woodshed is still full.
Georgia grew up hearing about the Hellings.
As an adult, she got acquainted with Floyd and Flora when she drove her uncle around in his later years.
Georgia laments the loss of closeness among neighbors. She believes technology has played a role.
“Years ago, neighbors depended on each other to do farm work, like threshing grain,” she said. “Back then, neighbors talked with each other. Today, they text. Today, you get in your car and drive to the grocery store instead of asking your neighbor for a cup of sugar.”
Georgia, a former Janesville resident and social worker, has three daughters and three grandchildren. Eventually, she wants to pass the farm to one of them.
“I'm hoping it will become a bicentennial farm,” she said.
Floyd and Flora have a son and a daughter, who both have careers off the land.
They don't know what will happen to their century farm when they are gone.
But for now, they carry on as they have for generations—with care and concern for the neighbor up the road.
“I am so lucky,” Georgia said. “It makes me feel good to know I have such good neighbors.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.