Corey Geiger, managing editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, president of Holstein USA and a lifelong Wisconsin resident, recently wrote a book about the farm where he grew up titled “On a Wisconsin Family Farm: Historic Tales of Character, Community and Culture.”
Corey is the sixth generation of his mother’s family to grow up on the farm. In the book, he shares stories told by his great-grandparents to his grandparents and then to him about the challenges, joys, heartbreak and hard work they put into raising a family on the farm and caring for the farm that has been in the family for more than 150 years.
“I grew up hearing all of these stories about the farm,” Corey explains. “In 2006, I started recording my Grandma’s and Grandpa’s stories. I ended up with 102 pages of manuscripts.”
When his grandmother died in 2011, Corey discovered she had boxes filled with pictures taken of family members on the farm, all of them identified.
“I tried to get something done for our farm’s 150th anniversary in 2017,” he says. He started writing a column for his hometown newspaper in Brillion, Wis., based on his family’s stories. “My mom proofread the columns as I wrote them for the newspaper,” he says.
Corey copyrighted his column. His wife, Krista, did some research on how to publish a book.
“We chose to publish the book through The History Press,” he says. “In July of 2020, I measured those 95 columns I had written for the newspaper, and I figured out that I had written enough material for three books with more than 200 pages each. So, I have future books in me!”
Corey, 48, credits two people for his book.
“What made this book possible was my great-grandmother Anna Burich and her daughter, Julia Pritzl, who was my grandmother. My grandmother kept a journal. Both Anna and Julia kept the books for the farm, and they took lots of pictures,” he says. “They were the youngest child in each of their families.”
After Corey’s parents, Rosalie and Randy Geiger, purchased the farm from Rosie’s parents in 1981, Corey’s grandparents bought a house 2 miles from the farm in nearby Reedsville and moved to town. Rosalie and Randy became the fifth generation of her family to farm on the family farm.
Corey notes the experience he gained when he co-edited the book “We Need a Show,” about World Dairy Expo for its 50th anniversary. He used sticky notes to map out which columns should go in his first book.
“I quickly realized great-grandparents Anna and John Burich should be the central characters of the first book,” Corey explains. “At the end of the book, they ask my grandparents Julia and Elmer Pritzl, ‘Will you run my farm?’ That will be the second book.”
Corey says the third book will be the stories about the family during the wars. The fourth book he plans to write will be about heart health to pay homage to his father and how heart health impacts Wisconsin farmers. He plans to write that book with his dad’s cardiologist. Corey’s dad, Randy, died following a heart attack in September 2019. He was 69 years old.
Julia and Elmer Pritzl had three daughters, including Corey’s mom, Rosie, and one son, Elmer.
“My grandparents had hoped that my uncle would take over the farm,” he explains. “My Uncle Elmer said he had no intention of farming. He told his mother, ‘If you don’t sell this farm to Rosie and her hardworking husband Randy, then there will be no Pritzl family member to take over the farm.’ He pointed out that both Anna and Julia ran the farm and they were women. Why couldn’t Rosie do the same?”
In the book, Corey wrote about historic events and how they impacted his family.
“I tried to use our family to tell the stories about world events like the pandemic, World War I and World War II, and tuberculosis,” Corey says. “I tried to relate the pandemic to what we are experiencing today.” John’s sister Lizzie died of tuberculosis in 1923. In 1927, Cecilia died of polio at age 13. She was one of John’s and Anna’s five daughters and, tragically, the third child the couple buried.
“In the 1950s, parents raced to get their kids vaccinated for polio because so many of their kids were dying of polio,” Corey says.
He was able to find a lot of news clippings and obituaries online to document many of the family stories. Even though he was writing the columns for his hometown newspaper, Corey says he wondered what Brillion area residents thought about his columns and the book.
“This was another fun part of this book,” he says. “I had a lot of feedback from residents who read my columns in the newspaper. Only one person made a correction. Most of the readers said I was spot on and offered suggestions for future columns. I did a lot of talking to older people in the Brillion and Reedsville area.”
Corey says it takes passion to write a book, and he’s very passionate about his family and the farm they have called home since 1867.
“It’s human nature to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but by the time I was 30, I realized the grass was pretty green on my side of the fence, and that’s when I decided there was a book there and maybe three,” he says. “It’s definitely grown beyond my original expectations.”
“On a Wisconsin Family Farm: Historic Tales of Character, Community and Culture,” published March 29. Corey says sales of the book have been going strong. The book is available on amazon.com, at Barnes and Noble and Target, and through the History Press. Signed copies are on Corey’s website, coreygeiger.com.