November 13, 2013Talking with William C. (Bill) and Linda Key about the 160-acre farm that has been in Bill's family since 1825 is a special experience. It's difficult to tell who is more proud: Bill, who has spent all 70 of his years there, or Linda, who spent countless hours researching its history.
The farm, located in Southeast Township in Orange County, just north of Marengo, last spring was named a Hoosier Homestead Farm by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, receiving a Sesquicentennial Award for being owned by the same family for at least 150 years.
In today's world of corporate farming, it's unusual for a farm to remain in the same family for more than a hundred years — let alone 188 — but what really makes the farm special is the attachment the Key family — not just Bill and Linda — have to it.
Turning onto County Road 740 East, you'll find Bill and Linda's residence immediately on the left. However, just a stone's throw away, in the old home place is their grandson, John William, and his wife, Ashley. The last of the three houses belongs John William's parents, George, Bill and Linda's son, and Charlotte.
"Once we get here, we stay," Linda said.
That will include George and Charlotte's other son, Aaron, who lives at home while studying at Indiana University Southeast to follow in the footsteps of his mother, a teacher at Marengo Elementary School.
"He said, 'When I went up to the statehouse, it made me realize how much the farm meant to me,' " Linda said.
While George and John William, and someday Aaron, have homes on the farm, all 160 acres are still in Bill's name. A life estate ensures that the farm will remain in the family after his passing, first going to George and then to Aaron and John William.
It is extremely important to Bill that the farm remains in the family. So much so that he pushed off visiting a doctor for a couple of years when he got sick for fear of losing part of the farm.
"He said, 'I won't go because they're not going to get my farm. I'm not losing the farm if I have to give my life.' He meant it," Linda said, choking back tears. "He waited until he was 65 to get Medicare. We got a good insurance supplement and we've never had to pay a dime."
Despite admitting that waiting a couple of years likely made recovery more difficult, Bill said he would do the same thing again.
"I wouldn't want to split this place up," he said.
The Agan Homestead, as the farm was referred by the state during the award ceremony, was deeded to William Agan's heirs on Jan. 13, 1825. Agan, who died a year or two earlier, had come with his wife, Mary, and their children from North Carolina.
The farm eventually made its way to Bill's mother, Cloie, who, having moved there when she was just 4 years old, lived there until her death 81 years later in 1999. For decades, she and her husband, Herbert Key, worked the farm. However, they also made it a welcoming place for the entire family, for years hosting the Agan family reunion.
Bedford Times-Mail columnist Roger Moon, a nephew, wrote that Cloie was, "without a doubt, an institution in our family and throughout Orange County's Southeast Township. Countless people still can share stories of not being allowed to leave her home until they had filled their stomachs."
Bill is proud that he and George were able to work alongside Bill's father, who passed away in 1993, on the farm for many years.
"At one time, there were four generations working this farm until Herbert died," Linda added. "Now, there's three."
Despite having other jobs — Bill and George each drive a bus route for the Paoli Community School Corp., George and John William work at Deere Country in Corydon, and George also serves as pastor at Little Mission Church — they keep a busy schedule on the farm as well as another nearby 100 acres that had been in Cloie's family.
They tend to 80 head of cattle, while also growing various crops, including beans and wheat. Currently, Bill is making trips to the market to sell corn. Plus, they also sell pretty much any amount of straw, he said, joking that they've yet to have a request for a half-bale.
"Them boys are proud of the farm, too," Bill said.
It takes the entire family, however, for the farm to operate. Despite being busy at college, Aaron also helps, as does Linda, who has lived there since she and Bill married on Aug. 4, 1962.
"It's been pretty much my life," she said.
When Bill got sick a few years back, he told Linda that there were two things he would like to see done regarding the farm. One was for them to erect a monument at the Agan family cemetery on the property, which they did. The other was for the farm to be honored with the Hoosier Homestead Award.
The process for the latter was more detailed, as the state application required much documentation. Linda spent countless hours researching the Agan family lineage and the farm's history. The work, however, paid off, as she and Bill were notified that the farm had been selected for the Sesquicentennial Award earlier this year.
On May 22, Bill and Linda, along with George and his wife, John William and his wife, Aaron, and Bill's sister, Ruthann Laws, her husband, David, and their daughter, Beth Laws Moore, made the trip to Indianapolis for the ceremony at the statehouse.
Following a video showing photos of all of the farms honored that day, each family was called to the front, where Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and Indiana Agriculture Director Gina Shields presented them with a certificate and large sign designating their property as a Hoosier Homestead Farm.
Bill and Linda decided the best place to erect the sign was in front of the old home place, which sits across from the barn. While both of his parents are no longer alive, Bill, noting how much they loved the farm, is confident they would pleased.
"Oh, he'd be proud of it," he said of his father. "Mom would be, too."