The Long Road Home
Mr. Jaerger's Home
John Jaerger's Story
I bought this farm from a gentleman who, for decades beginning in the ’60’s, had owned it as an active cattle ranch which also showcased beautifully manicured vegetable and ornamental gardens. The lovely flower beds were obviously grown with meticulous care at the hand of the proud owner, Mr. John Jaerger. Some of these remain, others long ago lost to time and weather.
Still, numerous signs and signatures are evident, recalling the productive life John Jaerger and his family enjoyed their many years here. His name is found etched in wood and engraved with dates, spanning more than a quarter century, in the concrete improvements to the property he performed over the years. Above the front door and side entry way are American Eagles, a symbol of strength and pride. And just below the eaves on every dormer are large ‘J’s carved, most likely by himself, in wood and displayed for all to see as they approach the home from the long, tree lined driveway. As we drove up for the first time, we noticed two deer in the yard….statuary, not live deer. Beautifully sculpted and painted but weathered over time, I immediately fell in love with them. Such a welcoming bit of artistic expression, I thought. And a personal touch which, I’m sure, was added as another welcoming gesture to visitors, as well as a gentle aesthetic touch.
As I learned about my new home, I found that Mr. Jaerger originally owned over 700 productive acres on which his cattle grazed and crops were grown. Each year, I imagine, these activities were rotated in order to sustain the viability of the ground which is naturally rich in nutrients and excellent for growing fuel grain and food crops just as is the practice today.
As time passed, Mr. Jaerger sold portions of his land until the final 10 acres with the two story home, large barn, numerous smaller buildings and guest cottage were all that remained of the original estate; the very acreage I now own. The large masses of open fields are currently planted to winter wheat. With the changing seasons, soy beans, corn, milo and sunflowers will replace the wheat. Not much has changed since Mr. Jaerger lived here years ago. For that, I am very thankful, for this was his home, his rock; his favorite time of life.
I have left every visage of Mr. Jaerger’s touch. Though he grew older and could not continue the hard work necessary to maintain his beloved ranch, he still resides in the area, at Eagle Estates, a retirement home which offers assisted living. His wife had passed and his children grown, the difficult decision was made … for health reasons, he had to leave this place.
As I’ve met my new neighbors, the story of Mr. Jaerger’s love for this ranch continues to unfold. His wife, Dorothy, became quite ill which necessitated their move from here to the city of Independence; closer to her Medical Doctors and Hospital. Over the years, he would return to his dear Elk City home, drive by or park just off the property, allowing, I am sure, the memories to flood over him. Neighbors say he did this until his health put a stop to these visits.
Mr. Jaerger and his wife raised two daughters here. Throughout their young lives and later, the children enjoyed this home, riding horses, hiking and living a good life.
When we first arrived, we had packed sparsely, bringing only the very necessary items we knew would be of immediate use. We left behind some conveniences and other things which would be needed later. To fill the gap, we decided to check out local yard, “rummage” sales to supplement our meager belongings. One of the very first sales we attended was just out of Independence, on Morningside Drive. We drove closer, found parking and ventured into the open garage. I noticed a small deer, very like the ones in my new yard. The people were very nice and we ended up buying several useful items. As we left, I looked back at the small deer, thinking how odd it was that he was so like those on my lawn.
I had completed the purchase of this property without ever having met Mr. Jaerger or his family. The transaction was done totally over the phone through our respective realtors. Shortly after our first weekend of yard “sailing,” and soon after having arrived, we were trying to activate our phone line and internet service. Since none of the local phone services acknowledged us, I found I had to call Mr. Jaerger to ask which service he used. I left a message for him at the Eagle Estates and shortly, he called me back. I was immediately impressed with his gentle nature and gentlemanly demeanor. Our conversation went on for quite a while; I telling him of our work here and appreciation for the sale, and he asking how things were, and telling me a little bit about the history of his former home. As our talk continued, it became clear that our first rummage sale on Morningside Drive had been HIS. He told me he had been there at the sale, but, since no one was aware of the connection, we had not, yet, “met.“ We were both amazed at the coincidence.
He had moved to a property in town to live for a several years before moving into Eagle Estates. The little deer I had seen on that lawn was once a part of the family of deer on mine. It was the “baby” and I had the parents. It was one bit of his past he could take with him to the smaller property on Morningside Drive.
Before his move to Eagle Estates, Mr. Jaerger’s daughter, Sharon, held a final sale at the Morningside house which we attended. There, the little deer still stood. This time, we introduced ourselves to Sharon and found, to our delight, that Mr. Jaerger was there. We happily introduced ourselves to him. I was immediately struck with the kind and gentile character of this nice man. After a great conversation, he asked if I’d like to have the deer and I, gratefully, said “yes!” His telling stories of his life at the ranch, added much to my appreciation of this place, and my sharing our new adventures there made him smile. That was a wonderful sight. We took the smaller statue home and placed it in it’s rightful place, next to the buck and doe on our front lawn.
During the following weeks, Mr. Jaerger would call or I would, and we struck up quite a friendship. He helped me understand more about the land, the actual property lines and the benefits of owning the mineral rights. He told me of the “Potato House,” which used to be used to store produce; mostly potatoes. It is now a guest cabin bearing the same name.
Our relationship grew to the point that he asked if we’d take his puppy dog whom he loved dearly and who was not allowed at Eagle Estates. The dog had remained at the Morningside property after Mr. Jaerger’s move to Eagle Estates but the home was to be sold and there was nowhere for his dear friend to go. He hoped that his canine companion could, at least, spend his remaining years in his old, “hunting grounds,” around the things he knew so well and which would help to buffer the separation from Mr. Jaerger. I felt honored that he trusted us with his beloved pooch. Of course, we said yes, we would happily have the doggy live with us in his familiar surroundings. However, a grandson stepped up at the last moment asking for the dog. We agreed that remaining in the family was probably the best course to take.
One day, while Al and I were working on the little cottage which is situated just west of the main house, an unfamiliar car drove up. We ran out to greet it, glad for the impromptu visit from ….. anybody! since we are so isolated here. As the car drove slowly down our long driveway, I saw that it was Mr. Jaerger and his daughter Sharon. He was feeling good that day, and wanted to see his old home.
You see, to this kind man, our new home was his favorite place during his entire life. A world traveler and successful businessman as well as accomplished farmer, Mr. Jaerger’s best moments and fondest memories were here, at CR 2500, formerly RR 1. He so misses the place, and yearns for those good times, finding himself drawn here.
We all enjoyed a great visit as we showed him our work and he gave very welcome suggestions and insights, filled with helpful information.
When he left, Al and I felt very pleased and happy that we could share this home with its “real” owner. We said, “please, come anytime you want, you’re always welcome and we’ll have a nice lunch….”
Since then, Mr. John Jaerger and Sharon have visited other weekends, driving the lengthy journey from town to the farm just for a little while each time as he is getting on in years and is quite frail. He loves the restoration we are doing, and approves whole heartedly. He had so hoped that someone would buy his home and care for it as much as he did. He believes we are those people, and I’m thoroughly happy that he feels as he does. We always look forward to his visits, and we hope, soon, that he’ll be well enough to stay for a long, long visit, perhaps stay overnight in the guest cottage where he used to spend so much of his later years, on the porch, looking out over the Southwestern view where the breathtaking storms blow in and witness the sunsets which are so fabulous from this vantage point.
As long as Mr. Jaerger is here, his eagles and his initials will remain to greet him as he drives the long road to his former home.
Since writing this story I received a phone call from my neighbor, Mrs. Rothgeb, informing me that Mr. John Jaerger has passed away the previous Saturday. Since I receive my local paper a day late due to postal delivery, I had not yet read his lovingly written obituary. I am very saddened at this news. I feel particularly blessed that I was able to meet such a wonderful gentleman and that we were able to make his last wishes - for the caretaking of the home he loved so much - answered, and that he felt at peace about his home being in our hands. I will miss his periodic visits.
Funny how things work out. I had just finished my rough draft of Mr. Jaerger's story when I heard of his passing. I quickly "edited" it and gave a copy to his family in a sealed envelope. Many weeks later, I received the sweetest card from his daughter, Sharon. I am so happy that I was able to share his story and that his family would know how fondly their father was remembered.
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