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'It's in my heart so deep': Rural Frazee man hopes to keep century farm in family for another 100 years

George Iten and his grandson, Martin Wallace, enjoying a hayride together. Marty says it was always his dream to take over the family farm from his grandpa. (Submitted photo)1 / 8
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Wallace family members (clockwise from left) Jean, Jim, Marty and Bonnie came to the Becker County Fair on July 29 to accept their Century Farm award. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)3 / 8
The Wallace family, including (clockwise from left) Nicole, Marty, Jim, Jean and Bonnie Wallace, were presented with the Century Farm award during the Becker County Fair on July 29. The farm was purchased by Marty Wallace's great grandfather, Albert Iten, and Albert's son Frederick in 1917. Not pictured: Jesse Wallace. (Vicki Gerdes/Tribune)4 / 8
George and Sylvia Iten (in front) with their daughters, Bonnie and Gwenn, who both remained involved with the family farm operation even after they got married. Gwenn passed away at age 42, after a 7-year battle with breast cancer. (Submitted photo)5 / 8
Bonnie Iten (now Bonnie Wallace) and a friend from a neighboring farm took a spin on her bicycle in this historic photo. The Iten family's original farmhouse is shown in the background. (Submitted photo)6 / 8
Sylvia (right), George, Gwenn and Bonnie Iten in front of the family farmhouse in Toad Lake Township, about 50 years ago. (Submitted photo)7 / 8
Andrew Iten and his wife Etta were the third generation of the family to live on the Toad Lake Township farm in rural Frazee, which was granted Century Farm status by the Becker County Fair this year. (Submitted photo)8 / 8

Ever since he was a very young boy, Frazee native Martin (Marty) Wallace has loved farming.

"It's in my heart so deep," says Wallace, who purchased the 280-acre family farm from his grandparents, George and Sylvia Iten, in 1987 — becoming the fifth generation of the Iten/Wallace clan to be involved in its operation.

The original 160-acre farm in Toad Lake Township, Becker County was first purchased by Marty's great-grandfather, Albert Iten, and Albert's son Frederick, back in 1917. The farm switched hands between members of the Iten family a few times between 1919 and 1955, when Marty's grandparents, George and Sylvia Iten, took over the operation.

This past month, the Iten Heritage Farm, as it is known, officially achieved Century Farm status — one of two Becker County to be named as such during the county fair on Saturday, July 29.

"We're very honored, and proud," says Marty's wife, Jean Wallace, who along with their daughter Nicole, completed the Century Farm application in March.

"We did a lot of research," Nicole says.

Though Marty's parents, Jim and Bonnie Wallace, never officially called the farm their own, the couple has been deeply involved in its operation for much of their married life, and Bonnie says she still considers the place where she grew up to be "home."

"I was born in 1931 and I lived here until I got married," Bonnie continued. "I probably milked my first cow when I was 6. That's usually the way it goes in farm families — all hands are needed.

"Dad didn't have any boys, so us girls (Bonnie and her sister Gwenn) got to be his men."

After Bonnie married Jim Wallace, he became the resident farm hand and mechanic.

"We bought an old trailer home," Bonnie said, "and we lived on this farm for about a year after we got married. But then we had Marty and 11 months later, twin girls — we grew out of our 8-by-42 foot trailer, so we bought the place outside Frazee that we live in now. My parents stayed here... but we still came out here every weekend, didn't we Jim?"

"You'd better believe it," her husband responded.

"The kids always wanted to come to grandpa and grandma's house," Bonnie added, "so we came out here whenever there was work."

Marty may not have grown up on George and Sylvia Iten's farm, but he was a frequent visitor there.

In 1987, he and his wife Jean purchased the farm from his grandfather, and have owned ever since.

"This fall we will have been here for 30 years," said Marty. "We started out with 2 milk cows. Jean's dad helped me get started, and we milked for 20 years."

"Dad sold out (the milking operation) right before I went away to college," says Nicole. "The milked prices had dropped so much... "We were still doing good with the operation," Marty said, "but it was time for a change... my knees and back were starting to feel their age."

Today, Marty rents out most of the crop land. "I hobby farm now," he says. "I keep 40 acres to make some hay, and play."

"He does like his tractors," Bonnie joked.

Though Nicole and Jesse still help out a lot around the farm, they do have jobs outside of it now; Nicole works at a research farm while pursuing her degree in agricultural engineering, and Jesse works in construction, but both try to make it back home as often as they can.

"I hope it stays in the family for another 100 years," said Jean.

"That's the plan," Nicole added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454