I wrote this life sketch about my father in 2005.
My grandfather, Rudolf Laemmlen was born and raised in Grossgartach, Germany. His father and their progenitors were wine grape growers. Rudolf was a bright boy, and a good student. Of all the children in his family, he was selected to attend the Oberrealschule in Heilbronn, then an agricultural college in Hohenheim. After he completed his schooling, he read an article in the Landwirtshaftelichen Press: “Ein Moderner, Industrialisierter Landwirtschafts Betrieb.” (A modern Industrial Agricultural Enterprise.) He wrote to the chief of the operation, located 25 miles west of Berlin, and asked if he might exchange common labor for a learning experience there. He was invited to go. He was given many responsibilities there working with various agricultural experiments. At that time in Germany inflation was rampant. Rudolf became curious to know what farming was like in America. When he heard about Henry Ford’s $5.00/day minimum wage, he made plans to go to America.
In April of 1925, grandpa Rudolf sailed for New York. He worked his way across the country, experiencing farming in America first hand. Several months later he returned to Germany. The first person he saw as he left the train depot in Grossgartach was Elsa Schaefer. She had also traveled to America as a 17 year old girl, where she worked for six years as a maid for a family in Peoria, Illinois. When Grandpa laid eyes on her that day, he said to himself, “Here comes my woman, my bride.” They met, fell in love, and were married on September 28, 1929.
Rudolf and Elsa’s Honeymoon Trip
In November of that year, they set sail for America on the ship “The Seattle” which arrived in San Francisco after stops in Le Havre, Southhampton, and Trinidad. My father, Arthur Laemmlen, smiles today when he claims that he was conceived on this honeymoon trip as they passed through the Panama Canal.
On their first day in America, Rudolf and Elsa purchased a Model T Ford Roadster for $145.00 and they began their new life in search of farm employment and a new home. They drove to a town called Sanger in the San Joaquin Valley, where they found a 20-acre place to rent on Lac Jac Avenue. It was here that my father, Arthur Laemmlen was born September 20, 1930.
Arthur had dark brown, almost black hair and brown eyes. He was joined in the coming years by 3 brothers and a sister, who died from pneumonia at age sixteen months. Their family eked out a living, raising grapes for raisins, and peaches which were dried and sold for 3 3/4 cents a pound. Eventually the family saved enough to buy a farm of their own in 1934 in Reedley, a farming town near by. My father lived on this farm until he married and bought the farm next door for his own.
As a young boy, Arthur and his brothers attended Windsor School, about a half mile from their home. He tells of the challenge learning English when he started school, as German was spoken in their home. At this time there were many anti-German sentiments in the community because of the war. He was often ridiculed and called a “Nazi” as he struggled to make his way in school by doing the very best he could. He graduated at the top of his 8th grade class.
Arthur and his brothers worked hard to make the family farm a success. Using hand tools, they cleared the land of old orchards and planted new vines and trees. Their home was old fashioned with no real kitchen or bathroom facilities. They dug a cellar, built a barn for the work horses and milk cows, and they improved the home. Over time, with lots of hard manual work, their family prospered.
During the war our economy prospered. Grandpa Rudolf said, “I think I spent about $10,000 for relief between 1945 and 1946. I thought I didn’t want to be the one who made a profit out of the war prices. During the war, we got checks we didn’t expect because prices went up, up, up. So all that extra money went for relief.”
The Laemmlen family remembered friends and relatives in Grossgartach. Times were hard there. Arthur tells how for two years, every week they sent packages from the post office. Grandpa Rudolf was in charge of getting the names of people who were in need. He corresponded with relatives and church leaders in Germany who sent names and addresses of families in the community who needed help. The boys helped pack the packages, in assembly line fashion, and Grandma Elsa sealed them up. Many were packaged with cloth, hand-stitched closed. The packages contained things like raisins from the farm, home-grown honey, beans, meats they canned, flour, soap, tooth brushes, combs, clothing, feed sacks for making clothes and sometime a chocolate bar. During one Christmas vacation, 150 packages were sent. Overall they sent about 5000 packages.
Childhood experiences centered around work on the farm. There was little time for play. In time, tractors replaced horses, and orchards and vineyards filled the fields. Most of the farm work was done manually, with pruning, picking and harvesting filling their lives. In the days before cold storages, fruit needed to get to the market quickly, or it spoiled. Much of the peach crop was dried, and summers were spent cutting peaches and spreading them on wooden trays, placed in the sun to dry. Grapes were picked in September, with the raisins harvest going into the Fall.
The farm prospered, and the boys grew. All of them attended Reedley High School, Art graduated in 1948. He was on the championship basketball team there, and active in sports clubs, academic clubs, forensics, and was the commissioner of awards for the school. He played the clarinet in the school band for 2 years and graduated with honors, being the only boy in the graduating class of 149 students to have grades good enough to be honored for seven semesters in the California Scholarship Federation.
In 1945 at age 15 he was baptized in the First Mennonite Church in Reedley.
After high school in 1948 , he went to UC Davis, where he studied Agricultural Economics with a plant science minor. He graduated from there in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science degree, which included a one year residency at UC Berkley. He was on the diving team in 1952 and enjoyed being a member of an academic fraternity.
In 1950, while attending Davis, he met Grace Smuin in a cafeteria lunch line. Grace was from San Gabriel, California. She was studying Horticulture. She later transferred to UCLA but was quietly engaged to Art for the three years they attended different universities. Grace graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and later became a school teacher.
After graduating, in 1952 Art entered the voluntary service program of the Mennonite Central Committee, serving in Akron, Pennsylvania in lieu of military service. He became a unit leader for conscientious objectors in Pueblo, Colorado, and then was transferred to Topeka, Kansas.
When he was asked to accept the position of administrator of a hospital back east, he and Grace finally married in June of 1954 before moving to Hagerstown, Pennsylvania, where he worked at Brook Lane Farm Psychiatric Hospital. He continued his Mennonite service there for two years, while Grace taught in a local elementary school. When his years of service were over, Art and Grace took a trip to Europe, buying an used VW there, and they spent a summer seeing the sights and visiting family in Grossgartach.
When they returned from their overseas adventures, they moved into Rudolf and Elsa’s home for a few months, so Art could help with the farm work. In 1958 Art and Grace purchased the 30 acre farm next door to Rudolf and Elsa’s in Reedley, where Art continues to live to this day (2005). This was another farm in need of improving, with land that needed to be scraped, leveled and cleared in order to prepare it for irrigation and future crops. The early farm had alfalfa, cotton, corn, oranges, and then, in time, vineyards and orchards.
On this farm, Art and Grace raised three children: Paul was born in 1957, Ann in 1959, and Eric in 1963.
In 1961 after much study and consideration, Art left the Mennonite church and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reedley was a town predominantly filled with German Mennonites. It created quite a stir in the community when Arthur converted to Mormonism. (Grace had been baptized in the LDS Church as a child, but was no longer active when she met Arthur.) He embraced this new religion, along with his family, joining the small LDS Branch in Reedley. In April 1963 the family was sealed in the Los Angeles Temple
In 1967, their old homestead two story farmhouse was torn down, and the Laemmlens built a new home in the same location. Art and Grace spent many hours designing their dream home which had all of the modern conveniences.
Art has been involved in many community and civic affairs, including Toastmaster’s International, 6 years as a PTA President, a member of the Community Chest, Reedley College Advisory Counsel, Reedley Community Farmer of the Year in 1979, and he served the Bishop of the Reedley Ward from 1978 to 1983.
In 1988 Art and Grace divorced. He later married Kristine Ankrum. Grace moved from Reedley to Orem, Utah, where she died unexpectedly on Halloween in 1998.
Art and Kris currently live on the family farm. Eric does the farming and Art spends a lot of time doing church assignments and working in the Fresno temple. Art is a man who’s life has been one of refining and perfecting. He is leaving a good mark.