4-H & Farming Are Hallmarks of this Franklin County Family

April Hemmes & her daughter. Photo credited to AmericasFarmers.com

April Hemmes of Hampton, Iowa, is a fourth generation farmer in Franklin County.  She’s been farming since 1985 on land that has been in her family since 1901, but her operation is a little different from what one might expect.  April’s husband, Tom Kazmerzak, has a job in town and doesn’t work on the farm.  April is the primary farm operator, and she was named “Midwest Farm Mom of the Year” in 2011.

“One of my fondest childhood memories is riding in the combine with my grandpa, and I learned a lot from him through the years,” says April.  “I love that my daughter and my son grew up on the same farm and had some of the same farm experiences that I had,” adds April.  “There’s nothing like being a farm kid.”

April Hemmes Combining

Many farm experiences are intertwined with 4-H experiences for April’s children.  Her son, Ethan, was a 9-year 4-H member and was a member of the Franklin County 4-H Council.  He was active in the Writers Club where he learned to express himself through short and poems.  Active in jazz, marching and concert bands, Ethan explored his passion for music through a 4-H self-determined project.  He went onto pursue music and English at the University of Iowa.

uth Hemmes was crowned the 2012 Franklin County Fair Queen.

April’s daughter, Ruth, also was active in 4-H for nine years.  She earned the State Photography Award and completed agronomy projects and showed beef.  Ruth served as president, vice president and secretary of her 4-H club.  She also was selected to serve on the Franklin County 4-H Council and participated in the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference.  In addition, Ruth was named the 2012 Franklin County Fair Queen.

“Throughout my years as a 4-H member, I learned many things from basic leadership skills in meetings, to club field trips, and a variety of projects.  Showing cattle taught me responsibility: I fed my cattle in the morning and evening plus worked with them and bathed them once or twice a week.  While I enjoyed all of my 4-H projects, I was especially interested in photography,” says Ruth Kazmerzak, who’s currently a freshman at University of Washington in Seattle where she’s studying Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Photography.

Hemmes Farm History

Picking Corn

The Koch-Hemmes home farm was established in 1901 by J.P. Koch.  His mother’s family had emigrated in 1738 from Bignen, Germany, to Pennsylvania where they bought a farm.  While other family members remained in Pennsylvania, J.P. came to Iowa because his aunt had written to him about the “riches of the land.”  J.P. found more than land upon his arrival; he also took a bride in 1890.

Newlyweds J.P. and Lavina moved to an acreage about 10 miles north of Iowa Falls.  Their marriage was blessed with five children: Harold, Gerald, Ralph, Kenneth and Velma.  Velma Koch married Bert Hemmes in 1925, and a few short years later, they purchased the farm from J.P. and Lavina.

Bert Hemmes, combining at age 100

Velma gave birth to their first son, Harlan, in 1929 and another, Jerry, in 1934.  In the coming years, Bert had to work with his banker to keep the farm running.  The Depression years were especially challenging, but Bert took great pride in saving the farm from the “big shot” from Des Moines who traveled north to buy up all the loans.  Advised by a local banker to “let things go,” Bert let the weeds grow and the barn door fall off.  Mr. Big Shot ended up driving right past the Koch-Hemmes farm, dust rising all the way as he sped back to Des Moines.  The next year Bert made his payment, and his farm stayed in the family.

As these hard years passed, Bert and Velma added many more acres to the land they owned.  Harlan came home from WWII and then school in the mid-1950s to farm with his father.  The two ran a diversified farm of corn, soybeans, hay, cattle, hogs, sheep and chickens.

Harlan married Sally Peterson in 1957, and they had four children:  Sarah, April, Harlan II and Heather.  April presently resides and farms the land, which she and her husband purchased.  In 2001, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture recognized the Hemmes family at the Iowa State Fair with a Century Farm Award.

As a tribute to her German ancestry, today April shares with us an old family recipe for Molasses Cookies.  Molasses was first used to sweeten foods because it was more affordable than sugar.  The aroma of cinnamon, cloves and ginger mingled with molasses evokes warm memories of grandma’s house.  Mix up a batch and bake someone happy!

Hard Molasses Cookies



  • ¾ cup cooking oil
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. cloves
  • ½ tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. salt



  1. Mix together cooking oil, sugar, molasses, and egg.
  2. Sift flour, soda, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Mix with first 4 ingredients.
  4. Refrigerate overnight.
  5. Roll into 1 inch balls.
  6. Roll in sugar.
  7. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes.