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One of a kind nears 100: Stewart man, 99, served in the Army, raised wild animals, traveled the world


Milo Ziemann of Stewart pictured about 10 years or so ago. He will turn 100 later this year. Above right, Milo rides one of his buffaloes on the family farm near Fernando, Minn. Milo operated a dairy farm, but also raised several wild animals, including bears, deer, fox, buffalo, elk, raccoons, and peacocks. People would stop by and visit regularly to see the animals. Contributed photo.

If you are part of a certain generation and live anywhere in or around McLeod County, you likely have a Milo Ziemann story. You probably heard mentions of his unique animals or recollections of the amazing well-known barn dances. Still others will wax nostalgia about quick but meaningful interactions with Milo, perhaps while on an errand to the bank with his raccoons in tow. Regardless of the exact memory, a common theme is always present…Milo’s friendly and unique personality.

Milo was born in December of 1924 on the family farm near Fernando (located south of Stewart, Minn.). He was raised on that farm, and still resides there today at the age of 99.

Since Milo’s father operated the family dairy farm, it was only natural that he would also follow that path. Milo would also grind feed, not only for their farm but also for many neighbors. This was his first job at age 12. 

Being able to feed the family, workers, and neighbors during the Great Depression was a big sense of pride for the Ziemann family. There was always food available on the farm, even during the most difficult times.

In 1945, at the age of 20, Milo was drafted into the United States Army.

“They said I wouldn’t be drafted because I was a farmer,” he said. “One hundred days later I was in Frankfurt, Germany.” 

Milo and his wife, Agnes, were married on Jan. 28, 1944, at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Fernando. They raised three children nearby. Contributed photos

Because of Milo’s ability to speak various levels of German, he earned the responsibility of guarding and transporting POWs in and around Nuremberg. 

“I thought going to Germany was a real good deal being our heritage was from Germany,” said Milo. “They kinda used me like the FBI because I could speak low German and high German and also English, so I could dig into things that the prisoners did.” 

Milo has told others how he felt the Fernando church really saved him during his active military days. The church services and confirmation classes were in German and that’s partly where Milo learned the language so well. It was considered a much safer position transporting prisoners compared to being on or more toward the front lines of a war zone, he said.

“The ones who didn’t know German, they were just kinda stuck there,” recalled Milo. 

Even in the midst of a war, Milo somehow found a way to befriend many Germans. He and another soldier would hunt deer and exchange the meat for laundering services. It was a win-win situation since the Germans weren’t allowed to have guns (no way to hunt) and Milo didn’t particularly enjoy cleaning his uniform up to military standards.

He picked up right where he left off when returning home two years later, doing chores and working the fields. Some time after, Milo decided to start a wildlife zoo. He raised many different animals including bears, deer, fox, buffalo, elk, raccoons, and even peacocks. When asked what the names of his bears were he laughed and said, “It all depends on what they did.” 

Although most would consider his animals wild, Milo didn’t remember ever being hurt by any of them. His daughter Eileen corrected him.

Milo with one of his pet bears at the family farm in his younger years. People would come by frequently to see the wild animals on his farm near Fernando, Minn. Contributed photo .

“Blackie (the black bear) swiped his cheek once because he was teasing him with a jelly roll from the Stewart bakery,” said Eileen.

Upon hearing this, the corners of Milo’s mouth perked up while he thought he got what he deserved that time. 

The thrill of a challenge led him to cross-breed a buffalo with a beef cow simply because he was told it couldn’t be done. This is where he coined the term ‘beefalo,’ thought to be the first time this was ever accomplished.

“Bud Klammer brought the first buffalo back with some steers from out West so that’s where I got my first buffalo,” he recalled. 

Contrary to popular belief and much to the dismay of his daughter, the zoo never included zebras. The game warden made frequent stops at the Ziemann farm to see what new animals may have been added and to make sure they were legal to own in Minnesota. Hundreds visited the zoo over the years with most Sunday afternoons having constant streams of cars.

Milo loved to travel. He is pictured on his 88th birthday in Hawaii, where he visited the Pearl Harbor National Cemetery and more. Contributed photos.

Milo was also known as an accomplished traveler, having visited all 50 states and many other countries. One tale involved a road trip to Alaska with his friend from Brownton. He had just bought a new Caprice Classic from the dealership in Stewart. They drove the Alaskan Highway when it was entirely gravel all the way through Alaska then down the coast through Oregon and California before returning to the Midwest. The gravel took such a toll on the car that Milo would shield his face when meeting oncoming traffic because he didn’t trust the windshield. That car got replaced quickly once they got back to the farm. 

Milo and his neighbor would rotate vacation times, taking 10 days each year to tour different states while a non-vacationing neighbor would tend to the other’s farm. “That was a good thing because I would milk his herd. We knew our herds and we knew things were getting done at home (while we were on vacation). We were both dairymen and we got along real good.”

Although Milo will celebrate his 100th birthday this year, he has no desire to leave the only home he’s ever known. 

He said the secret to a long healthy life is to keep it simple, live a common life, and see as much of this world as you can. 

How will he celebrate his milestone birthday?  “That’s a good question,” he said. “There’s gonna be quite a few parties gettin’ goin’. Different groups of family that will have a party with me so I suppose there’ll be three to four parties goin’ on,” as he pretends to take a swig of brandy.

“Milo’s annual barn dances were regarded as the best social event in the area,” Eileen said, recalling stories from several cousins. She seemed to appreciate the suggestion that maybe another barn dance would be just the right way to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of McLeod County’s most interesting residents. Who knows? If Milo has proven one thing in his life, it’s that anything could happen. If it does, you can bet everyone will be invited so watch for that announcement. Milo’s friendly personality makes it easy for him to get along well with everyone.

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