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Wisconsin Farm Is Home for Thriving Rural Foundation

--An oft-quoted remark by farmer and folk artist, Nick Engelbert, 1881-1962

“If a man can’t be happy on a little farm in Wisconsin, he hasn’t the makings of happiness in his soul.”

This is the story of how a little farm in Wisconsin became the focus for a grassroots rural organization's cause. Nick Engelbert was born in Austria in 1881 and immigrated to America to escape military service in the Austro-Hungarian army.  He married a Swiss immigrant (Katherine Thoni) in 1913, and nine years later they bought a small seven-acre farm near the village of Hollandale, Wisconsin.

Engelbert farmed and raised four children on his small acreage, but he is known today for his unique sculptures and mosaic-laden house that together became a sort of wacky tourist destination after World War II. 

Engelbert eventually left his farm after his wife’s passing in 1960 and died two years later.  Little could he have realized his work would leave a legacy for creativity and philanthropy.

The Engelbert farm and its unique and evocative art work eventually fell into disrepair.  Fortunately, Wisconsin’s Kohler Foundation, an organization committed to preserving art and sculpture of “self-taught artists,” purchased the property in 1991 and restored the farm and many of the salvageable sculptures. 

Over the next four years numerous meetings were held between Kohler Foundation representatives and community members from the Hollandale region, part of the Pecatonica school district.  In 1996, the Pecatonica Educational Charitable Foundation was formally established and the Engelbert farm, known as the “Grandview” property—the name of the Engelbert dairy, was transferred from the Kohler Foundation to the newly-formed organization.

Since its genesis the Pecatonica Educational Charitable Foundation (PECF) has been a thriving example of a grassroots rural organization supporting purposeful partnerships, life-long learning, cultural exchanges, workshops, and community recognition.  In addition, the Foundation operates the Grandview historic property for the general public and utilizes the site as a base for much of its work.

Ricky Rolfsmeyer, PECF board member and executive director of Wisconsin Rural Partners, exuberantly extols the virtues of the group’s work.  “We want children to know this is the kind of nutty stuff you can do on a small farm in Wisconsin.  We want students to be creative, express themselves, learn from mistakes, and develop a rich respect for where they are from,” he says. 

“Oh, and by the way,” adds Rolfsmeyer, “we have managed to build an endowment with over $100,000 in assets!”  A small farm, a one-of-a-kind artist, and a group of caring community members—key ingredients for happy souls.

For more information on Nick Engelbert, Grandview, or the Pecatonica Educational Charitable Foundation, go to www.nicksgrandview.com.