“We have been here since March 28, 2012. It was all cornfield,” said Robert Ortcoff. “We came out here specifically for farming. The USDA had a grant which helped if you had animals, but you had to have animals first. I applied for the grant, put up fencing, then I gave up on the grant.

“The farm runs without electricity. We run totally on solar and wind power,” Ortcoff continued. “Why do I need electricity? We have a simple solar pump system for water. I check it once a week and I turn it on when the water is low. This system is used out west a lot. “We don’t raise typical animals here. We have registered Tamworth hogs, the ‘bacon pig’. They are long and lanky and lean. We sold one to a 4-Her who raised it and took it to the Fair. It didn’t even get an award because the judge said it was ‘too lean. It needs more weight.’ Tamworth pigs don’t get fat.

“We raise Katahdin sheep, ‘hair sheep’. There are six breeds of hair sheep in the USA. Wool carries lanolin which gives the mutton a lanolin flavor. The meat of hair sheep has a different flavor.

'We have free range, organic chickens and sell their eggs. They are Heritage Reds, a heritage breed, and we only sell them locally. We have Pilgrim geese, an Australian breed, which is rare in the United States, and Silver Appleyard ducks.XXXXXXXXXX “We do not sell pork chops. We will sell a whole hog or a half hog. We sell lamb. From a 120 pound lamb, you will only get about 50 pounds of meat. We only use registered slaughterhouses. I like the one in Clinton. They are close and do a good job.

“We sell turkeys for Thanksgiving only. We take them to a USDA facility in Wisconsin. There are no good food processors within a three hour drive.

“I respect my animals. I give them the best life they can have and they will only have one bad day.”

Thornpaw Lea Farm in located at 510 N. Menge Road.

Although the fall weather was very nice, there may still be some work to be done before the snow flies. It is not too late! If you take the time to complete some of the chores discussed below, you will have a head start on your spring garden.

Protect young trees & shrubs Protect your young trees and shrubs from the winter cold. Materials like burlap are ideal for protecting large plants from frost. However, make sure to remove the material if the temperature rises back above freezing. Otherwise, you may accidentally force your trees and shrubs out of dormancy in the middle of winter. Screen evergreens, particularly exposed broad-leaved types, from drying winter wind and sun by setting up burlap screens or shade cloth shelters.

Clean up and prepare your garden Remove all dead vegetation and add a layer of compost and mulch, if possible. Infected plants should be removed and destroyed, but do not add this material to your compost pile. Remove larger weeds. Get a soil test and contact your extension office if you need advice about soil amendment additions. Now is an excellent time to add organic matter by adding shredded leaves to your garden beds and compost pile.

Prep for a new garden Are you planning a new garden bed for next summer in an area where grass or weeds are currently growing? Place a thick layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area, then pile on alternating layers of organic material like compost, leaves, pine needles, untreated grass clippings, and straw. In the spring, the grass and weeds underneath the pile will be dead, and your new garden bed will be ready to plant.

Start an indoor garden Winter should not stop you from growing your favorite plants indoors. Most herbs like chives, parsley, thyme, and basil can be grown in direct sunlight or using a fluorescent lamp. Experiment with tomato varieties like Toy Boy, Tiny Tim and Red Robin. Bell peppers, spinach, kale and Swiss chard can be grown when provided with proper nutrients and sunlight. We even grew potatoes.

Dairy cows came to McHenry County in the mid-1830’s in tow with the settlers who eventually developed our towns and villages. Early dairy production was for personal use and not commercial enterprise. The 1995 county history titled McHenry County in the Twentieth Century mentions the Eckert family who settled on Queen Ann Prairie in 1838, and went without milk for a full year. Their long milk drought ended in 1839 when the Herdklotz family and their cow settled nearby and the Eckert’s could again enjoy a glass of milk.

Up until the Civil War most of McHenry County’s livestock was raised for beef. Butter was produced and shipped to other markets but only in small quantities. According to the 1885 History of McHenry County in 1867 the county experienced a boom in dairy production when eight cheese factories opened operations that year; the local cheese factories were located in Union, Riley Township, and Marengo. The Union factory was operated by Hungerford and Durkee; the Riley factory by P.B. Leonard, E. Graves, and Leonard Parker; and the Marengo factory was operated by Anson Sperry and R.M. Patrick.

As the country crept into the new century Northern Illinois’ population blew up. From 1880 to 1900 Chicago’s population grew from approximately 503,000 people to 1.69 million, and the Chicagoans were thirsty for milk. Milk poured daily into Chicago from the rural areas that surrounded the city.

In the early 1900’s the county’s dairy industry saw more expansion when the Borden Dairy built several milk processing plants in the county. The Borden Dairy was founded by inventor Gail Borden Jr. Prior to entering the dairy business; Borden first sold meat biscuits. In 1851 on a trip aboard a ship returning from London where Borden exhibited his biscuits he saw firsthand the horrific effects of spoiled milk; passengers drank the milk and many got sick and several children died. This experience gave Borden an idea, and after several years of experimenting Borden received a patent for condensed milk. During the Civil War the Borden Dairy made a fortune selling the product to the Union Army. In fact, business was so lucrative that Borden opened new factories in Connecticut, New York, and Chicago – sales thrived into the new century.

It was under this historic backdrop that Marengo received a Borden Plant. The Marengo facility started purchasing milk in March of 1903 - before construction on the plant was even completed. For several months the Marengo milk was shipped to Cherry Valley and Belvidere for processing. By mid-August the Marengo plant was completed and processing local milk.

In its early days the plant was capable of daily processing 25,000 pounds of milk - all produced by sixty-five local farms, but over the years those numbers grew. The February 16, 1950, edition of the Marengo Republican News published a feature article on the Borden Dairy, and reported that the plant accepted milk from 160 farms located in a seven miles radius from Marengo. Each day area farmers milked approximately 4,000 cows to keep the plant running. The Borden Dairy was staffed by 29 employees, and was capable of accepting up to 200,000 pounds of milk each day. Eight skilled cheesemakers crafted the milk into 25,000 pounds of cottage and baker’s cheese.

Marengo cheese production at the Borden Dairy plant had a very positive impact on the local economy. In 1948 Borden’s bought 32,066,920 pounds of milk from Marengo farmers for $1,294,721. The following year Borden’s paid McHenry County farmers $4,320,072 for 119,639,641 pounds of milk. But, like many other enterprises that don’t last forever Borden’s followed the same path. In the 1950’s the Borden Dairy shut its doors for good.

Having the dairy plant was a plus for Marengo and local farmers, but not all things associated with the Borden Dairy were positive. During its years of operation from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s not a decade went by that wasn’t marred by a milk producer’s strike, but that’s a story for another day.

Rob Sherman


Marengo resident, Jaime Campuzano, 31, was struck and killed Oct. 22 while crossing Route 176 at Prospect Street. The McHenry County Coroner’s Office and the Marengo Police Department are investigating the death, which occurred at approximately 6:15 p.m. that evening. The Marengo Fire and Rescue Department responded to the call at 6:21 p.m., and at 6:44 p.m., Campuzano was pronounced dead at the scene.

A spokesperson with the Mc Henry County Sheriff’s Department Special Services stated that their personnel was completing documentation on the incident with timeline, diagrams, and report information. There was a witness to the accident, and the driver’s identity is on file with law enforcement agencies. The coroner’s office performed an autopsy on the following day, due to non-natural cause and manner of death.

The Marengo Police Department is leading the actual investigation for criminal charges. “At this point, no citations have been issued,” said Marengo Police Chief Rich Solarz. “The investigation is still open and ongoing.”


Toxicology reports on the body of Rob Sherman, who perished when his Zenair CH601 aircraft crashed in a Marengo farm field last Dec. 10, returned as negative. The autopsy and tests eliminated physical impairments, due to drugs or alcohol, and no health-related issues that contributed to the accident. Additionally, no suicide notes, or allusions to self-injury were discovered. The McHenry County Coroner’s Office identified his remains in a Dec. 12 press release, following an autopsy performed that afternoon. County coroner Anne Majewski stated Sherman, 63, of Poplar Grove, died from multiple trauma injuries. The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the Federal Aviation Authority, and the National Transportation Safety Board. , as to causality for the downed aircraft.

Sherman’s plane was found in a snow-covered Marengo farm field, and had crashed either late evening Dec. 9, or early hours of Dec. 10. He was pronounced dead at 7:53 a.m., approximately 25 minutes after the Marengo dispatch had responded to the scene after being alerted to the wreckage.

A preliminary NTSB report indicated that Sherman was flying at night in violation of his pilot’s license which only carried a sports pilot designation. Those findings also indicated the plane crashed after “a loss of control. He left the Poplar Grove Airport at 6;12 p.m., Dec. 9, flying to the Schaumburg Regional Airport for an Experimental Aircraft Association party for the holiday season. Sherman had been involved with “building your own airplane” kits from the Missouri-based Zenith Plane Aircraft Company.

Sherman is best remembered for being party to a lawsuit filed on the premise of the separation between church and state against the city of Zion, and the village of Wauconda, regarding Christian crosses atop municipally- owned structures during the holiday season.


Three members of the Marengo Cemetery Board will tender their resignations due to an ongoing dispute regarding funding from the city’s property tax levy that has been reduced successively over the last few fiscal years, as Brittney Richardson, George Bauman, and Richard Zenk will relinquish their duties. Richardson appeared at the Oct. 9 city council session, and read a prepared statement leading to the announcement that she would vacate her position Dec. 15, and the others would follow suit. Problems with communications between the city and the board were cited as the defining point, and Richardson expressed her frustration with her statement, in part: “The ad hoc committee formed in 2015 took a negative approach…they made implications of missing mowers, stolen gas, and misuse of property. They even went so far as to allege financial abuse...Despite knowing the full extent that another (committee) member was willing to go to find something wrong---I increased my effort to cooperate, hoping to come to an amicable resolution.

“For the last two years we have been trying to work with you. Apparently, those efforts meant nothing to you.”

The city council allotted $10,000 for Fiscal Year 2017, from its budget, along with an additional $5,000 for Fiscal Year 2018, at their discretion. The cemetery board projected approximately $15,000 in expenses for the next fiscal year. Several options are on the table for consideration by the full council at a special meeting Oct. 30, and also on the statements of qualification for wastewater engineering services, at its plant.


Amanda Imperial has been the Creative Services Coordinator at the Marengo- Union Library for seven months. She did not replace anybody. She is the first person to have this title or hold this job. “I never imagined myself working at a library,” she says with a laugh. “But now that I’m here, I can’t believe how perfect this job is for me and how much I love it!”

Imperial’s surprise is understandable, considering her entire background is in art and computer game design. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Game Design and Development from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY and is currently working on a Master of Arts degree in Digital Communication and Media Arts from DePaul University in Chicago. Does that sound like a librarian to you?

In today’s world, it certainly does! Imperial considers her career path a “melding of technology and art.” She brings both to her work at the Marengo-Union Library. Her artistic eye and touch are visible on the bulletin boards around the Library (such as the one pictured above which she created in collaboration with Kim Holesha) and the posters and flyers she’s designed to promote the many programs the library offers.

You can see more of her artistic eye and clear proof of her technological know-how if you visit the newly launched (Sept 1) MULD website which she designed. Go to www.MULD.org to enjoy a very user-friendly, interactive and informative online presence that will connect you to the library right from your own computer or ipad, and also draw you to the actual library building to enjoy the many activities and programs described on the website.

Imperial finds her greatest joy working with some of those hands-on programs. She likes to play games. For her Master’s thesis she’s designing a computer game, and she’s even drawn to virtual games. But at the library, she likes to introduce people to new table-top games and watch them figure them out, get to know other players and have fun. “Nothing is more rewarding,” she claims.

The first Saturday of each month at 1:00 p.m. Imperial hosts a Tabletop Club where participants come to learn and enjoy new table top games and get reacquainted with some changing familiar games such as Dungeons and Dragons. Check the website to see which games are up for each month. And if you want to learn two spooky games, consider the October meeting. It’s been moved to October 14, because of Settler’s Days, and it will feature some Halloween candy and the games Mysterium and One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

Amanda Imperial invites you to join her if you dare.

Days seem suddenly shorter and thoughts turn to fall gardening work. The last tomatoes are being harvested, garden clean-up is underway, and those mounds of leaves must be raked. Whatever the size of your yard, collecting all those leaves is a big job so don’t waste all that hard work by throwing them out. Why not consider making some gardener’s gold otherwise known as leaf mold?

What is leaf mold? It is basically composted leaves. However, it is far superior to compost as a soil conditioner. The process of making leaf mold takes a minimum six to twelve months. Leaf mold is dark brown in color and has an earthy aroma with a crumbly texture.

Leaf mold is a valuable commodity that has many uses. It is great for improving soil structure and creating wonderful habitat for worms and beneficial bacteria. There is evidence that leaf mold increases water retention in soils by over 50%.

Most leaves can be used for making leaf mold, one exception being leaves from walnut trees as they release chemicals that may stunt plant growth. Leaf collection may be done by raking or using a leaf blower to create piles that can be picked up. The process of creating leaf mold can be accelerated by using the lawn mower to chop the leaves into smaller pieces. If possible, collect the small pieces in a leaf bag as you mow.

Create a leaf cage from chicken wire or mesh to allow air circulation around the chopped leaves. Place the leaves into the cage and thoroughly dampen the pile. Periodically check the moisture level and add water if necessary. Covering the pile with a tarp helps to retain moisture. It is helpful to use a garden fork to turn the pile every few weeks to incorporate air which speeds decomposition.

When your leaf mold is ready, spread it on the soil surface and work it in with a fork. Over time it will become incorporated into the soil. Any soil type can benefit from an application of leaf mold. Drainage in heavy clay can be improved and water retention can be improved in sandy soil. It can be used to mulch flower beds and vegetable gardens. Its water retaining abilities make it a wonderful addition to containers.

Contact us with your questions and suggestions at sdeberg@marengo-uniontimes.com.

Union Fire Chief Brian Heimsoth
thanking scout Sam Thede for his work
in making the fire hydrants in Union
look presentable. Photo by Anne Eickstadt

“We saw the hydrants were in pretty bad repair,” said scout Sam Thede of the fire plugs in Union. “We contacted Mayor Wagner and he agreed that we could paint them. The mayor and city council supplied the paint and the new marker whips.”

“Sam asked if there was any project in town that needed to be done,” said Mayor Wagner. “I said, ‘yes, the hydrants need to be painted.’ He got the project approved, I signed the paperwork, and made sure he had the paint and the whips. They did about 20 fire hydrants around Main Street. One weekend they scraped off the old paint. The next weekend one cleaned the hydrants, one painted, and one attached the whip. They had a good system going.

“They look fantastic. The scouts did a good job,” Mayor Wagner praised.

This was Sam’s Life Scout project. [‘Life’ is the second-highest rank attainable, above ‘Star’ and below ‘Eagle’. ‘Life’ is awarded when the Scout serves actively in the troop, team, or crew, serves in a position of responsibility for six months, and performs six hours of community service.] It will be evaluated as his audition project to become an Eagle Scout. It has to be deemed ‘Eagle worthy’ by the district council.

“I was the project manager,” Thede said. “I had to put together a team, organize, and supervise the project. I had issues not helping do the work. It came out better than I ever expected. It’s so bright.”

Fire Chief Brian Heimsoth is very pleased with the freshly painted hydrants. “Sam is the fourth Boy Scout to do an Eagle project here in Union,” he said.

Snow? Snow!

Snow days are just ahead and that’s good news for the Marengo Snowgoers. This snowmobile club, dedicated to family snowmobiling, was founded in 1974 and has been going strong ever since!

Now is the time to consider joining this group, to get ready for the coming season of fun in the snow. The club meets at Glo-Bowl fun center in Marengo the 3rd Tuesday of each month at 7pm. The October 17 meeting is the kickoff for their annual membership drive with the club furnishing pizza for all that come out to join the club.

November 12 is the club’s annual fundraiser known as “The Brat Fry”, located in the upstairs banquet hall at Joe’s Place starting at 1:00pm until 6:00pm. Club President Gary Zickuhr says: “Come enjoy one of the best Brats you’ll find and try your luck on the meat raffles (aka feather party). We will have the football game on the big screen for your enjoyment too. Maybe you’ll be the lucky person winning the 1,000 Dollar Grand Prize.”

Zickuhr says trial marking throughout the Marengo and Union area will take place on Thanksgiving weekend, with the trails officially opening on December 1st. This is providing there is snow cover, so Zickuhr says, “Start doing that snow dance early! I have a good feeling about this coming year.”

For more information about the club or the upcoming raffle contact President Gary Zickuhr at 815-970-1732

Victor Mortensen of Marengo, was one of the Korean War Veterans honored recently by Honor Flight Chicago. Victor was inducted into the Army as a Private First Class on October 1, 1951. After 21 months and 15 days of active duty, he was separated from active duty on July 15, 1953 as a Staff Sergeant.

Mortensen spent all but 8 of those months on a gun crew in Korea. As an operator of the largest weapon in use, he was in close proximity to the weapon. He explains: “As the number one man, the only protection for the ears was to put the muscle of your right arm over your right ear and reach over the top of your head and put your middle finger in your left ear. The noise and the back blast and concussion were terrific. . . .We were always warned to keep our mouths open to help prevent concussion. I did my best, but I still suffered hearing loss in both of my ears that plagues me to this day.”

Mortensen’s service and sacrifice have not gone unnoticed. On September 13, 2017 Honor Flight Chicago, the local branch of Honor Flight, hosted a daylong all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for World War II and Korean War Veterans. From their arrival at O’Hare Airport at 4:00 a.m. until their return at 8:30 p.m. the day was packed with experiences these heroes will never forget. Both groups were honored with a special ceremony at the World War II Veterans Memorial and also spent time at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. They were thanked, feted and fed. They told stories, reminisced, spent time reflecting on those long ago wartimes and the years since.

It was a day Victor Mortensen will never forget, as his service will never be forgotten. We join Honor Flight Chicago in thanking him for his service to our country.

A quilt created by Arlen Mary Bird, of Union, has won a top award in the quilt contest at the 2017 Quilt Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.

A record-breaking number of quilt lovers – nearly 21,000 – attended the 13th annual Quilt Expo, which took place Sept. 7-9 at the Alliant Energy Center. Quilt Expo is presented by Wisconsin Public Television with Nancy Zieman, host of public television’s “Sewing With Nancy.”

Bird’s quilt “My Valentine” won third place, with a prize of $200, in Category 2 (Hand Quilted Bed Size - Appliquéd, Mixed or Other Type). Bird writes, “Old prints from my cupboard, new batiks from the store, pattern by Elly Sienkiewicz, and stitches galore. The quilt was begun in 1998 and completed in 2014. It celebrates the marriage of Allen and Arlen Mary Bird on February 14, 1960.”

In 2017, quilters from 29 states and provinces submitted their best work for judging in this year’s Quilt Expo quilt contest. All quilts on exhibit made it through a juried selection process before going on display. The 277 quilts accepted in either the contest or the Winter Games Quilt Challenge were judged on visual impact and stitching technique.

Following the event, selected quilts from the Winter Games Quilt Challenge will travel throughout the United States, representing the spirit of Quilt Expo.


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