Don’t Take Me off the Farm

Bob and Addie, circa 2012

Summer of 2015

“Holy Cow, they saved the best for last!” was Robert Gehman’s reaction when he first caught a glimpse of Adeline Rush.  His family was visiting at Addie’s home in Dublin, Pa when all the girls came down the stairs after changing out of their church clothes. He noticed them all but it was the last one that stole his heart.  Even today, after 62 years of marriage, Robert (Bob) and Adeline (Addie) Gehman still enjoy being together and are committed to their church, their family and their farm.

The farming partnership they built over the years utilized their gifts, but also required a lot of grit and determination to create a 228 acre farm with 200 head of cattle and 75 milking cows. “I just wanted to be a farmer ever since I can remember,” states Bob.  Bob, the son of Norman and Viola Longacre Gehman, grew up in Lanark, a small town outside of Allentown where he shared a bedroom with 3 brothers. Two sisters slept in another very small bedroom.  “My dad worked as a florist for 26 years and he had long hours especially on holidays and us children would sit on the radiator waiting for him to come home.” Even though his father later worked for the family oil burner business, Bob only was interested in farming. “I had uncles that were farmers and I loved going to my uncles’ farms for a week at a time.” Bob remembers being at Uncle Henry Longacre’s farm one time as a young boy and walking past the cattle truck when a cow “blessed” him with excrement.  But even that didn’t discourage Bob from being a farmer.

Addie, the daughter of J. Paul and Barbara Wismer Rush, had the gifts to complement Bob’s desire to farm. “I would have been a carpenter if I would’ve been a man,” Addie says with certainty.  Naturally athletic and extremely intelligent, she was the capable helpmate to Bob’s keen business sense and love of animals.  The couple met when they were barely teenagers and because Addie lived in Dublin, Bob says, “I wore out my car going to see her.” They were married in 1953 and afterwards Bob did the two things his mother wouldn’t allow him to do, “buy a motorcycle and get a goat.”

For a while they lived in an apartment in Plumsteadville and then worked for a number of farmers, including Dan Schantz. They attended Swamp Mennonite Church where Bob had been carried in by his mother many years earlier. By 1959, they had 3 children and an opportunity to rent a farm in Coopersburg that was owned by Wellington Cassel and called Marwell Farm.

Wellington Cassel stopped in on the new tenant farmers every Thursday, partly to check on his two grocery stores in Quakertown and partly to see his farm. Bob recalls, “Nancy, our daughter, would go out, walk around with him, holding his hand. Then he’d give her gum.”  Addie comments, “He was a wonderful man. We never signed any agreement with him. What he said, he would do. “

Wellington was known in Franconia Conference for his song services and the Marwell Farm was where he held the sing-a-longs.  “I don’t know how many people talk to us from the Souderton area, saying, ‘Oh yes, I used to come to his song services.’ About everyone knows Wellington Cassel’s farm because he did that.  In fact he has a hill that they built for the chorister to stand on. It looks like a cave, but it’s not, it’s especially for the song service.”

After a number of years, Wellington told the Gehmans they would have the first chance to buy the farm. Addie remembers, “He was a very generous man. He never complained about anything we were doing,” with Bob adding, “And I’m sure he could have cause I didn’t know that much.”  They both appreciated that Wellington “wanted the person who bought the farm to be active in the church and active in the community.”

And the Gehmans lived up to their promise to Wellington because not only were Bob and Addie involved in the Board of Elders and the Mission Outreach Committee at church, Bob was on the Lower Milford Township Planning Commission for 30 years and the Lehigh Valley Cooperative Farmers Board of Directors for 20 years.  They raised five children on the farm and all of them contributed over the years to the farm’s success. “I never learned to milk,” admits Addie, but by the time the girls (Susan, Nancy, and Peggy) turned 9 or 10, they were able to do the milking by themselves. This enabled the boys (Barry and Bob Jr) to stay out in the field while the girls finished the milking.”

Listening to his parents talk about their home life, Bob Jr comments, “They have a successful business, good marriage, and good kids.” Addie says, “We always felt that the Lord gave us a big house so we had to use it. We had cousins by the dozens that wanted to come here on the farm.” Over the years, not only did they house nieces and nephews, but they had trainees come to live with them, six from Paraguay, three from Brazil, and one student from Germany.  But they have had some hard times, too, especially when their daughter Susan took her own life after several serious bouts of depression, leaving a husband and three sons, aged 9, 13, and 15.  Although they miss their daughter every day, Bob and Addie have found continued strength and reliance on the Lord, their family and their church family.

Addie taught guitar lessons at Clemmer Music for one day a week for 31 years. “It was a good chance to get away from the farm and it was also very rewarding to see a person come in not knowing anything about an instrument and go on to be a part of a worship band.” They’ve also taken some time away from the farm to travel, visiting Europe, Paraguay and Brazil.

The farm is currently a member of the Land O’Lakes agricultural cooperative, as sons, Barry, Bob Jr., and grandson, Wendell gradually take over more and more of the day to day operations. Bob Sr. still takes the hay and fertilizer orders and recognizes that he wants to stay on the farm “as long as [he] can.” In 1967, they started with 19 milking cows and 160 acres and gradually over the years turned the farm into 75 milking cows with 228 acres, renting an additional 1000 acres. They remember the moonlight walks in the winter followed by hot chocolate, the creek stomping and picnics, the Open Gate Farm Day when the public took hayrides and tours, and more recently the pig roasts and square dances on Labor Day. Although Bob and Addie have had some health issues in the last few years, they insist, “We are grateful for as many good years as we’ve had. You have to take the bad with the good, whatever…the Lord is with us.”

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