DOWAGIAC, MI -- Edward A. Guse, a self-described “city boy” from Benton Harbor, nurtured a hobby into a thriving Dowagiac farm business that 15 years after his death is still growing — cucumbers, squash, watermelon and $165,000 this year for Southwestern Michigan College scholarships.
Mr. Guse bequeathed the farm south of Dowagiac on the west edge of LaGrange Township to SMC when he died at 80 on Jan. 16, 2002.
In the first two years, 15 agricultural students have been able to pursue their passion through SMC’s partnership with Michigan State University which helps students earn an MSU certificate in agricultural operations, fruit and vegetable crop management, viticulture, applied horse science or landscape management while completing an SMC associate degree.
Guse Agricultural Scholarship recipients include Jared Frank of Decatur, studying agricultural operations; Marissa Waldschmidt of Cassopolis and Megan Reynolds of Lawton, agribusiness; and Nathaniel Stanton of Niles, forestry.
An additional 167 students from Cass and Berrien counties awarded Presidential, Roadrunner and Award of Excellence scholarships received support toward their college education goals from the Guse fund.
Ironically, a man known for staunch financial support of everything from the fair and its youthful livestock exhibitors to Cassopolis FFA never took part in such events himself.
He never showed livestock at the Berrien County Youth Fair in Berrien Springs or belonged to 4-H.
“I really enjoy working,” Mr. Guse explained in the summer of 1998, when named grand marshal of the 147th Cass County Fair. “All I’ve ever known is work since I was a little kid. It was funny how I got started in farming, the way it was a hobby that got to be a business.”
Before that Mr. Guse envisioned a career teaching math.
“This remarkably generous gift established a perpetual stream of student scholarships at SMC,” Virginia Crawford, president of SMC Foundation, said.
“Thousands of students for decades and decades to come will benefit from Ed’s scholarships,” SMC President Dr. David Mathews said.
“I think the farm community thought we would sell this farm,” Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas F. Jerdon said. “Now that they know we’re managing it perpetually, I think they look at it in a very positive manner.”
“For example,” Mathews said, “the college joined a three-year water study as the landowner. There’s concern for farmers to grow crops, they’ve got to be able to irrigate. Some oppose farmers drawing out water for irrigation, so farmers banded together for scientific study of their irrigation practices to show it’s sustainable.”
Clifford Poehlman, a 24-year Cass County road commissioner and executor of Mr. Guse’s estate, was instrumental in him leaving his farm to the college.
“He’d be really happy to see what’s happened, and that it’s staying a farm,” Poehlman said.
“It’s kind of a unique piece of property,” farmer and SMC Trustee William M. White said. “It’s made for vegetables” with rich topsoil, sandy subsoil and good drainage.
At a Dec. 9, 2014, auction, Eau Claire grower Michael Piedt won bidding for the right to grow row crops and vegetables on 210 tillable acres for three years.
More than 50 attended the auction conducted by Phil Hahn of Hahn Auctioneers Inc. in Nappanee, Ind., with 24 registered bidders.
“I bought my first farm the fall before I turned 18 in January,” said Mr. Guse, born Jan. 13, 1922. “I was going to raise flower bulbs. I had some lilies in town. The guy across the alley from us who worked for a flower farm offered me $75 for those bulbs. That was quite a bit of money in 1939.”
His father owned some land north of Coloma, “but for some reason I didn’t want to go out there. I bought a farm close to Benton Harbor. In ’47 my older brother and I bought a farm and farmed together for five years.”
In 1951, Mr. Guse married Ruth, who died in March 1987, and bought out his brother.
About 1963, he sold two farms, but since he was only in his 40s, “I didn’t want to quit. I looked all over,” from Beeson Street to California Road in Silver Creek Township and as far east as Volinia Township.
“This place was the only one I could find,” so Mr. Guse bought the 220-acre farm on Wilbur Hill Road for $64,000 in 1966 — the year SMC opened for classes.
Renting ground from neighbors, “I’ve got better than 550 tillable acres” to raise hay, corn and soybeans, the former hog farmer said.
SMC Foundation is a non-profit corporation established in 1971 to provide assistance to students who desire to enhance their lives through education and training.
The foundation accepts contributions to existing scholarships in addition to establishing new scholarships. Direct donations to: SMC Foundation, Director of Development, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047. Contact Eileen Toney for more information at (269) 782-1301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.