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One war, two wives, 30,000 chickens

Marion veteran walks down memory lane

Staff writer

His life, by his own admission, can be summed up as fighting in a war and outliving two wives.

Don Fruechting, 87, said, “My guardian angel has been a busy person.”

He is in his second year living at Marion Assisted Living. He’d previously lived at lake with second wife, Betty, who died two year ago from a stroke.

“I wasn’t doing very well,” Don said. “I didn’t like to cook so I decided this was the place to be.”

He enjoys his residence, especially not having all the chores to do.

“I knew Betty since grade school so it was a completely different transition in courting the second time,” Don said.

They married when Don was 70, and spent nearly two decades together before her death.

Before he thought of marriage, he was sent to Korea at 21 years of age, to a demilitarized zone 30 miles north of Seoul.

He landed six months before the armistice was signed, then stayed an additional year for occupational duty.

“I was taught to do what I was told and how to kill,” he said about boot camp.

He was very glad he didn’t have to use the killing skills.

“The last three days got pretty nasty,” Don said. “It was baptism by fire. But it was much worse in the beginning before I got there.”

After returning he used his GI bill to attend Kansas State University in Manhattan, receiving $150 per month. The program promoted sideline supplemental income opportunities for farmers.

When he returned home, he found girls around town his age were all married.

A helpful neighbor thought Don would like her daughter, Madora Richmond, so she introduced them.

“We ended up getting married and having three sons — Terry, an employee at a bank in Newton; Kevin, working for a bank in Marion; and Mike, an IT specialist at Andover schools,” Don said. “Each of them had three children so I have nine grandchildren.”

Their marriage lasted 39 years before Madora died of cancer.

On a piece of property his dad helped him get after returning from the war, Don farmed near Aulne for 45 years with regional crops, a few cattle, and lots of chickens.

His father raised chickens for meat and eggs when Don was young so it seemed a natural fit.

When Don says he has a lot of chickens he means it — nearly 30,000 caged laying hens. It provided them a dependable income and gave their three boys something to do.

His father built the first commercial pole barn where the chickens started out in the open then migrated to cages.

At the height of his egg production, Don had built three large barns.

“I bought 10 laying hens to start with and it just grew from there,” he said.

Don would buy pullets, raise them 12-14 months, harvest the bird, and completely clean out the barns to start over again.

He had an agreement with Campbell’s Soup to harvest the hens for their chicken soup. He had to hire neighbors to help carry chickens out to load — 10,000 birds at a time — and it took about half a day.

Later in his career, a couple of neighbors got into same business, and the two families worked back and forth, carrying the birds in to grow and produce, and out for harvesting.

For a long time, Don sold most of the eggs to Vogt Produce in Hillsboro.

“The eggs were gathered twice a week, and they would come pick them up,” he said.

Vogt's would candle, grade, package, and got ready for retail sales in their store. After Vogts closed, the eggs were wholesaled to grocery stores.

Upon his retirement, he’d been raising chickens for 37 years. With his boys not being interested in farming, he sold all but 80 acres he rents out.

With his marriage to Betty, he inherited a couple more grandchildren. He also has five great-grandchildren.

Both wives were missionary-minded, enjoying missionary support. In the second year of his marriage to Betty, they joined a group, Volunteers for Missions.

“We were mostly retired people with RVs, and did projects on the east coast of California, Don said. “I still hear from a couple of them.

Their 10 years of involvement was the “best time of was life.”

Last modified Jan. 2, 2019

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