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Lifelong interest leads to new life Lifelong interest leads to new life

By Fran Bauer
of the Journal Sentinel staff

November 10, 1997

Greendale -- The historic farm that Ron Raasch loved to hang around throughout his boyhood has led him into a whole new life he shares with his wife and two young sons.

Weeks ago, Raasch, who is a restoration expert, moved with his family to become caretakers of the farm that a Prussian immigrant named Werner Trimborn purchased in 1851 -- nearly a century before the rolling farmland became Greendale.

Two months ago, his wife, Judy Krajniak, became the farm's program manager, enabling her to design new activities that recall Trimborn's era.

Almost 150 years ago, Trimborn built kilns on his land, so he could heat the limestone he dug from his fields until it crumbled into powder.

The powder was then mixed with sand and water to become the concrete used as foundations beneath many an early Milwaukee home.

The farm had 10 acres in Trimborn's day and overlooked a path created by Potawatomi Indian traders. That path would be paved with logs to become Janesville Plank Road. The road is now known as Forest Home Ave.

Today, posh subdivisions crowd close to the farm, which is now 7 1/2 acres.

Its history might have disappeared had Milwaukee County not bought the site as a park in 1980. But it was the Park People, a group of nearly 700 volunteers, who devised ways of raising money and restoring the sagging farm structures, rebuilding its kilns and opening it to the public.

The Park People have poured nearly a half-million dollars into restoring Trimborn's farm in the last 16 years. The money was raised largely through a yearly sale of arts and crafts.

Quentin Zillig, who heads the Park People's farm development committee, remembers how much Raasch seemed to know about the farm's history from the very first day they met. Zillig had researched the farm for the Greendale Historical Society. But Raasch had done his research by hanging out at the farm in the 1960s and '70s, when it was a riding stable that boarded up to 100 horses.

Zillig had turned to county historians for guidance on how to restore the old farm. "We found a lithograph that showed how the farm looked in 1876. That's been the guide for our restoration," he said.

But it was Raasch who saw the old lines on the farmhouse bricks, and he used those lines as a pattern to rebuild the porch in the same style it must have had in Trimborn's day.

Raasch was so knowledgeable that the Park People decided to hire his firm, Two Hands Restoration, to handle the farm's rehabilitation. For Raasch, it meant turning what had been his hobby of gathering oral history about the farm into research for his work.

Raasch started gathering memories about the farm from those who used it as a riding stable, back in days when there were miles of trails winding through the area. But he soon found himself poring through old photos at rummage sales and talking to people whose lives were linked to the farm over the years.

In late June, Raasch held a family reunion at the farm, drawing together descendants and their friends, who are spread out over seven states. "I had the pleasure of reuniting people who hadn't seen one another in 63 years," Raasch said. He chuckled at how one 78-year-old man didn't recognize his former next door neighbor, now 85, until he heard her laugh.

The gathering represented 15 decades of Trimborn history, he said, and their recollections and family photos helped his family see the farm in a new and very personal light.

In the months ahead, Krajniak will be using much of that history as she develops programs for schoolchildren as well as for adults. She replaces Kathleen Arciszewski, now a Milwaukee County supervisor, who spent five years developing programs at the farm for fourth-graders whose history courses focus on Wisconsin.

But Krajniak has a broader vision: "We want people coming here over and over again to see how everyday living was in Trimborn's day and to do science and art projects."

In mid-October, the farm hosted a family day, complete with hayrides and a Native American storyteller who reminisced about days gone by.

In Christmases to come, Raasch and Krajniak hope to bring back the tradition of Father Christmas. But Santa Claus will still star at this year's Christmas celebration on the farm, which will be held Nov. 28-30.

Also in the works are plans to display copies of fossils gathered from the farm area and now on display at both Harvard University and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

There will also be walking tours, the chance to keep explorer's journals and much more, Krajniak said.

"Everything Ron and I have been interested in -- art, science, history, education, hosting parties -- all of that is encompassed in what we hope to do here. This farm has literally drawn us magnetically to it," she said.

Article Coutesy of Margo Goetz
Page created: 24 JAN 2000/7:32 PM CST
Last Edited: 24 JAN 2000/7:32 PM CST