More memories of ‘Bill, the Corn Man’

This image of William D. Eidelbach, better known, affectionately, as, “Bill, The Corn Man,” will probably be etched forever in the minds of hundreds, if not thousands, of his customers as he sat on the end gate of his old pickup, selling his fabulous garden produce throughout southeastern Minnesota.

This amazing man who left this world last fall on Nov. 21 at the age of 88 was born on Dec. 10, 1930, in rural Alma, Wisconsin. In 1957 he married Patricia A. Kelly and to that union five children were born. His obituary, that you can still find online, was truly an account of a life well-lived, from start to finish!

One of the paragraphs found in Bill’s obituary gives a touching memory of the humble life he led and I quote: “He raised his children with Patricia on the Kellogg farm, teaching them to work hard and always leave the world a better place than you found it, one day at a time. Through the years they accepted long-term stays from many friends and relatives who were in need at the time and many, are just as family members, to this day. Friday night after sundown was his favorite time to lead the family in hours of singing and debate/discussion. He is missed by so many.”

While I am not positive of the exact year he began selling produce on the corner of Fillmore and St. Anthony streets in Preston, his family told me Bill started selling his home grown garden produce in 1948 in many small towns! To name a few the list included Kellogg, Lake City, Cannon Falls, Rochester, Plainview, Spring Valley, Lanesboro, and of course, Preston. There were no doubt others towns as well.

And the list of what he sold is also, mind-boggling: sweet corn, of course; as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, green peppers, cauliflower, egg plant, peas, beans, squash, cabbage, onions, watermelon, muskmelon and the list goes on. At one time he also sold peaches and honey. 

Bill spent over a half century, planting, tending, pulling weeds, operating garden tools and harvesting vegetables, all by hand. He told someone once that: “I helped send my kids to college with this business.”

Peter Allen interviewed Bill some years ago about his life as a vegetable gardener and here are some highlights from that conversation.

“At one time Bill had 100 acres under cultivation and as many as 20 trucks selling vegetables. His farm was located near Kellogg, Minn. When he first started selling sweet corn the price was 25 cents for a dozen ears.

“Bill said that at one time Native Americans used to garden in the same area as his farm. The soil is sandy, good for raising vegetables and there is plenty of water in the Mississippi flood plain. There were two spring fed ponds on his land.

“Bill started his own plants in his greenhouse.

“Bill was extremely knowledgeable in every aspect of vegetable gardening.”

All of these statements are quite obvious when you consider the magnitude of Bill’s hugely successful gardening operation!   

Next week will be the closing story about Bill. I know you will be quite surprised, as I certainly was, when you read about a wonderful thing that occurred when a famous entity passed by the road where Bill was selling produce one day, so many years ago. 

So please, stay tuned.