Faith and providence make farming worth the gamble

Devere and Virginia Manderfield were married in 1954 at St. Luke Catholic Church in St. Lucas. The couple have raised nine children, on their family farm west of St. Lucas.


Faith and providence make farming worth the gamble



It’s no secret to most farmers that what they do for a living necessitates some risk. There are factors involved, such as weather and market prices, which are simply out of their control. Devere and Virginia Manderfield of St. Lucas have experienced the year-to-year gamble that farming can become, but also recognize the blessings that it has brought them.

            “Farming has been good to me. In all the years I have farmed we have had some tough times, but we’ve never had what you might call a poor crop. We have been blessed,” reflected Devere, who wanted to be a farmer for as long as he can remember.

            Virginia adds thoughtfully, “I guess the word I would use to describe our life as farmers is providential. Faith has been very important to our family, and God has certainly provided well for us.”

            Devere and Virginia were both born on small farms south of Waucoma, and both were the oldest in their respective families. Devere’s parents, William and Celia (Kurash) Manderfield, had four children while Joseph and Mary (Drilling) Winter, Virginia’s parents, had six children. As is often the case with the oldest child in the family, both Devere and Virginia became well-versed in responsibility.

            Devere attended school at a rural one-room schoolhouse in Chickasaw County, near where his parents farmed. After completing eighth grade, like many young men his age, he went to work.

            “I worked on our family’s farm, of course, and during the winter there were places where someone my age could get a job in a factory, like Waterloo or Charles City.

            Meanwhile, Virginia attended school in St. Lucas at St. Luke’s Catholic School, graduating in 1950. Though they had been born and raised within a few miles of one another, Virginia and Devere did not begin to spend significant time together until they met at a dance one night at the Inwood in Spillville.

            “Virginia went to Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids to study nursing and became a licensed practical nurse (LPN). I ended up following her there and working in a factory for a few years before we got married,” explained her husband.

            The couple got married in 1954 at St. Luke Catholic Church, but continued to live in the Cedar Rapids area.

Devere had always wanted to be a farmer and had often talked about starting to farm back home. An opportunity to do this did present itself, though it wasn’t how he or Virginia would have preferred it to happen.

            “My mother died of cancer in 1961 at age 50, and my father had died from an accidental fall a few years before that. When my mother became bedridden I moved home to care for her and two younger sisters still in school. After mother passed away it was agreed with family that we stay and rent the farm,” related Virginia.

            Though it was difficult to lose her parents at a relatively young age, Virginia took some comfort in being able to return home and keep the farm in the family. They rented the land for three years before purchasing the 100-acre dairy farm. In addition to nearly 40 dairy cows and some hogs, the couple raised corn, beans, oats, and hay. They also raised a large family.

            “A farm is a wonderful place to raise a family because you are close to nature and close to God. We were able to have our children around us and share in the work of the farm, which is a good way to learn responsibility,” noted the longtime nurse and farm wife.

            The Manderfields had nine children, which proved quite the challenge for small farmers trying to take care of their family’s needs. In addition to operating his own farm and some rented ground, Devere worked in other part-time jobs over the years, including driving a school bus, installing dairy barn equipment, and hauling milk. His wife took on the duties of being a farm wife and also, after completing her Associates Degree in Nursing (ADN) at NICC, worked as a registered nurse at Palmer Memorial Hospital (now Palmer Lutheran Health Center) in West Union.

            “Times were tough, but we were always able to provide what our family needed. Being able to do that without going bankrupt or taking any kind of a write-off was important to us,” expressed the family patriarch.

            Helping others is something the Manderfields also consider to be important. Devere was instrumental in sending donated hay from northeast Iowa Knights of Columbus councils to Georgia in 1986, when that state was going through a severe drought. Eventually, 16 train-car-loads of hay were shipped from Prairie du Chien, Wisc. to Southern farmers in need.

            Devere has also been an active member of the National Farmer’s Organization, the Catholic Order of Foresters, and the Knights of Columbus throughout the years. Virginia has served as a volunteer for Birthright Domestic Abuse Services and Hospice for many years, while also working with the Council of Catholic Women, Catholic Daughters of America, and Foresters.

            After 32 years of farming, Devere is retired now. He sold the family farm to his son, Donald, after moving into St. Lucas in 1993. Virginia still works some hours at Palmer Lutheran Health Center. Soon she will be celebrating her 45th year of employment there. The Manderfields are active members of St. Luke Catholic Church in St. Lucas.

In 2000, Devere and Virginia volunteered to serve as chaperones for the World Catholic Youth Day in Rome. The Manderfields enjoy traveling, having visited most of the states in the U.S. and numerous foreign countries. Dancing has been a favorite activity of theirs and they have attended many polka-fests in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. They have also wintered in Harlingen, Texas, for the past several years.

Today, Devere and Virginia are very involved with the St. Lucas Historical Museum, which preserves German Catholic heritage. They also like to spend time with family, especially their 26 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. Sharing their stories and their lives with them is very rewarding to the couple now.

            Neither Devere nor Virginia knew how things were going to work out when they began farming in northeast Iowa. In that sense, it was a gamble. Still, they knew that with a little bit of faith and God’s providence, blessings awaited them down the road. Was it worth the gamble? After spending a little time with Devere and Virginia, I didn’t really have to ask. I knew the answer would be, “You bet it was!”

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