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Star athlete now stars in his garden

The patron saint of farmers, Saint Isidore, is known for multiplying food to feed the poor and the birds.     When Gusta and Ben Schmiesing’s second youngest son was born, little did they know they would be naming him so appropriately.  Gusta and Ben were farmers living between Meire Grove and Sauk Centre in Stearns County. They had a strong faith and knew how to work the land, so they may have named him after St. Isidore, or so Issy Schmiesing believes.     Among Issy’s siblings are Walter, Tony, Marina, Frank, Erma, Bernice, Adeline, Helen, Eleanor, Cathy, (Issy), and Joe. This Schmiesing family belonged to the St. John’s Parish in Meire Grove, and probably because of the order of school bus routes in those days, the two youngest boys attended the St. John’s Catholic School in Meire Grove for their sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Having good athletic stature and ability, the Schmiesings excelled in sports.  The fact is, both Issy, and younger brother Joe, have a place in sports history, which became evident as far back as grade school days. The boys quickly became involved in Meire Grove Central Six Basketball, and were factors in Meire Grove’s winning championships a few times. Issy went on to play basketball for Sauk Centre High School helping them to take third place at State in 1961. Stearns County League Baseball     Issy smiled, “Remember those River Rat parties down at the river?”  he asked, referring to team parties along Sauk River after ballgames. “Those were good times.”     Both Issy and little brother, Joe, played a big part in the success of the Meire Grove Grovers those years. Issy, at 6’ 8” had a 90-mile per hour fastball and a mean side arm slider, which kept the batters loose at the plate. College separated the Schmiesing brothers     Issy attended St. Cloud State College and played basketball. He once scored 56 points in one game, which is a record for St. Cloud State.          “As far as I know, no one has yet broken that record,” said Schmiesing, who also helped win a share of the Northern State Conference title for St. Cloud State in 1963. Joe headed in another direction to try different things, and became a professional football player for seven years in the NFL.     After college graduation, Issy taught school four years in Sandstone and 25 years in Little Falls. He has been retired now for five years, and he and his wife, Jan, own 78 acres of land west of Swanville. They built their home there in 1994. Respecting the land, and its possibilities     Schmiesing’s land include lots of maple trees. For “something to do in the spring,” he and a friend get together and tap the trees for maple syrup. They have accumulated a good collection of equipment to help with the process.     “We tap the neighbor’s trees too, and on a good day, we can fill a five gallon pail of sap per tree, and we can cook down 100 gallons of sap in a day if things go good. Last year and the year before that, we got 25 gallons of syrup each, which we use, sell or give away to friends,” he said. No hobby anymore     Issy’s love of gardening was once a hobby;  now “it’s become almost like a job,” he said.     Beyond the house to where the woods separated, and in the distance visitors can see a variety of garden patches – all good sized and healthy looking. He has a huge raspberry patch, a stawberry patch and more. Schmiesing uses a large variety of berries to make wine. Besides strawberry, he has used sumac, birch, raspberry, cherry, grapple, grape, chokecherry and others. He has a variety of trees, including apple, plum, pear, peach, etc. which he experiments with growing. Some are not as successful as others, he admits.     He also raises a variety of exotic berries, a large patch of potatoes and onions.     “I was pulling out weed and accidently pulled out a potato and it was a good size already,” he said. “And it was still June.” Bugless Potatoes     In the potato patch, he has rows of garlic growing in between the spuds. Gardener Issy said he had not had potato bugs in at least three years.      “Oh, last year I did find one,” he laughed.     He attributes this happy result to an article his wife, Jan, had read about how garlic will prevent potato bugs. Issy believes it to be true, and continues this process, and being an excellent cook, garlic all gets used at the same time, so it works out well.     Past the potatoes are beans, peas, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, more onions, a variety of peppers and just about every vegetable that possibly exists. All were in different stages of growth.     A little further down the way was another garden with viny plants like squash, melon, etc. Behind that was a patch with more varieties of berries, including blueberries. Deer are common visitors to these gardens. Issy seems to not mind having to share ‘some’ of his produce with the animals. He said at one time he even spied a bear on the edge of the woods.       The Schmiesings also have their own homemade ‘hot house’ to start their plants in spring, which is attached to one of his garages. Along the side of a building he is experimenting with some herbs. Jan’s garden spot     As you come up the driveway to their home and just across the road from the garden is what Issy called ‘Jan’s Garden,’ which includes  deep purple clematis, yellow primroses, bachelor buttons, large lilies and more.     “I prefer planting perennials now instead of the annuals because I don’t get much time to work with them, said Jan, “and besides, it’s cheaper.”     Jan Pawblak Schmiesing is a nurse at the Long Prairie Hospital. She is formerly from a farm in Ogema where she lived until she was four and then the family moved in to town. She now has a very busy schedule, but loves living in the country. The Schmiesings have two children, Ben and Adam. Issy has two girls from another marriage, Jessica and Lisa. All are grown.     The Schmiesings are members of the Swanville St. John the Baptist Parish where Issy and Jan sing in the choir. Isidore is a Eucharistic Minister, and does Communion Services on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He said he doesn’t know about his sermons, but that he generally leads the congregation in prayer.     The Schmiesings host at least six or seven large fish fries every year for their friends and neighbors. Issy loves to fish and share.         Issy often bakes six or seven strawberry pies, and as many as 18 raspberry pies at a time from his garden. He gives most of them away. Supper was served!     After the interview, Issy got out his own invention of a large deep fryer and proceeded to dry and bread the fresh fish just caught the night before. They were ‘gigundus’ sunnies. Jan came home from work and pitched in, and when the fish were deep fried, plump and delicious, we sat down to eat! Fresh radishes from the garden were crispy and good. Home canned beans, yellow and green mixed, along with potato salad and last, but surely not least, his homemade strawberry pie and ice cream. All we needed then was some reminiscing, and there was lots of that.     Gusta and Ben can be assured that Isidore was well named.

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