Editor’s Note – This is the first in a new series of stories authored by Robert Kroeger, who has painted 23 barns in Highland County. The most recent 12 paintings, usually framed with actual wood from the barn pictured, will be auctioned off Sept. 24 when the Highland County Historical Society holds its annual Log Cabin Cookout. Proceeds from the paintings will benefit the historical society. Kroeger titled this story “Hiestand’s Heritage.”
From U.S. Route 50 – when we drove by here in May of 2015 – the scene at the western edge of Hillsboro looked bucolic: a barn complex high on a hill, hidden by tall evergreens and fronted below by a pond. But, a year later, on a frigid April day when I looked at it from its rear, I was hooked: gray siding falling off, gaping holes, the metal roof trying hard to preserve it but failing, two tall silos on its flank, the same pond in the distance, and a rugged, twisted, gnarly tree, its branches barren – loaded only with spring buds – silhouetted against the blue sky.
The barn begged to be painted.
Ed and Helen Hiestand own this farm and these barns, along with another one far away in the fields. Ed shared the barn’s story with me. His parents lived here, though his great-great-grandfather bought the farm in 1858. From that point, it’s conjecture. Judging from the hand-hewn timbers, the barn dates to the early to mid 1800s, a time when early pioneers would cut down a tall tree close to the barn-building site and use it for the master beams. Actually, as Ed related, this barn was formed by combining two smaller barns – one of sawn timbers, one with hand-hewn timbers – another tip on its antiquity. Anyway, it clearly dates to long before the 1890s.
Next to the main barn stands another, a smaller one that bears an old sign, “Green Lawn Stock Farm,” a farm in Fayette County that his mom’s family owned. They lost it in the Great Depression, but they kept the sign and proudly display it.
Joseph F. Hiestand, Ed’s father, was born in 1906 in the adjacent farmhouse and grew up on this farm. He served in World War II, one of the many that we now call “The Greatest Generation.” As an officer in the Army Air Corps (there was no U.S. Air Force in World War II), he trained aerial gunners. His training paid off: American pilots excelled in the Pacific and on the European front. Nowadays, each week a few of these brave men and women pass away. Small-town newspapers give these heroes their due with descriptive obituaries. Larger ones pay no homage, unless the family has several hundred dollars to pay for a write-up. How quickly we forget.
After the war Joe remained in the Air Force Reserve, eventually rising to lieutenant colonel. But his real love was his farm. He decided to raise dairy cows and became a farmer, leaving the battlefield – as many Roman generals did after serving their country – including Cincinnati’s namesake, one Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a Roman farmer who became a general, defeated warring tribes, and then returned to farming.
Ed’s dad also was a pretty good trapshooter, even as a young man, winning major championships in 1931. In 1938, the year he married Mary, his wife of 66 years, he began a run of consecutive targets broken, establishing long running records. Apparently, married life agreed with him. In 1973, he became a member of the Amateur Trapshooting Hall of Fame. It’s no wonder the Army Air Corps wanted him.
But that’s not all. Like Cincinnatus, he felt an obligation to society and served two terms as a Highland County commissioner. In 1965, he became a state representative, serving from 1966-74. He died in 2004 at 97. A life well lived.
In 1983 his son, Ed, and his wife, Helen, took over the reins, keeping the farm in the family name where it has been since 1858. Besides farming, Ed also felt the need to serve his country, using his aeronautical skills in the Air Force. Those were the Vietnam years, which I remember well – a time of protestors, a time when U.S. military weren’t looked upon as heroes. Indeed, there was controversy about this war, but we military men and women served our country. And, Jane Fonda, we’ll never forget your visit to Hanoi.
I, too, served – but not on the front lines. My work came at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., where we sometimes treated soldiers and sailors injured in the war. I’ll never forget the face of one Army captain who was hit by shrapnel. It wasn’t nice. Yes, even though Walter Reed was close, he was sent to the Navy’s Bethesda.
Ed was an Air Force navigator, a job that an officer was expected to excel at: from knowing the route, guiding the pilots, monitoring the fuel, understanding bombing targets, locating enemy aircraft, and charting weather patterns. The job bore a lot of stress, especially considering countless lives rested on his shoulders. In 1966, Ed was a lieutenant and rose to the rank of captain by 1969.
While serving in Vietnam, Ed navigated B-52s, Boeing’s famous Stratofortress, developed after World War II to offset the growing Russian army. This plane can carry 70,000 pounds of bombs and can fly for nearly 9,000 miles without refueling. They didn’t carry that much in the Vietnam era, but six of them, flying in formation at 30,000 feet, could wipe out an area five-eights of a mile wide by two miles long. Still, there was risk. Some were shot down and American lives were lost. Ed flew in two tours with the B-52s.
He also served five months in the Gulf War, flying in C-130s. Lockheed developed the C-130, an aircraft designed for unprepared runways and landings, used for troop transport, cargo transfer, medical evacuation, and aerial fighting. Maybe his C-130 landed on some of the steel landing mats I helped make in one of my many part-time jobs at Truscon Steel in Youngstown. All in all, Ed spent 29 years in the Air Force. Tell him “thanks” next time you see him.
There’s one more paragraph to this story, significant perhaps because proceeds from this painting will benefit the Highland County Historical Society, the group who connected me with the best darn barn scout in the world, Hillsboro resident Sandy Shoemaker. You see, Joe’s wife Mary, born in 1916 in Jeffersonville, educated at Wilmington College, married to Joe in 1938, mother of Ed. His sister Linda, now deceased, and his sister Marilyn, was a hard-working member of this historical society. Mary was heavily involved in the restoration of the Scott house, one of Ohio’s treasures in Highland County. She was also active in the DAR and in 1999 was inducted into the Highland County’s Women’s Hall of Fame. Mary, as did her husband, nearly reached the century mark, passing at age 97.
Hence, this painting’s title, “Hiestand’s Heritage.”
Robert Kroeger is a former Cincinnati area dentist who has since ran in and organized marathons, took up the painting skills he first picked up from his commercial artist father, become a published author, and is a certified personal trainer that started the LifeNuts vitality program. Visit his website at http://barnart.weebly.com/paintings.html.