The Tolers at
Cherry Hill Farm
by Susan W. Showalter
photo by George Bredewater
One does not have to look far in our Brown County to find very interesting people doing very unusual things in very unusual places—a writer’s paradise. Take the folks living on Cherry Hill Farm in Van Buren Township, for an example.
“The story is that construction of our house was started prior to the Civil War,” said Olivia Toler. “It was rumored to have been part of the Underground Railroad. One of the former owners found a cup and straw between cabinets between the two living rooms.”
The colorful history of their beautiful old house includes the fact that Buck and Harriet Widmer owned the house in the 1940s. Harriet provided the voices for the still famous Aunt Jemima (of pancake fame) and Miss Blue on the radio program Amos ’n’ Andy. Harriet even prepared pancake breakfasts on the back porch.
These are not the only things unusual about the Toler’s home. An airplane landing strip was built in the eighty-acre field in 1982. Three years ago a hangar was constructed.
“Cherry Hill Airport is a 2200’ private airstrip here on our farm,” said Orville Toler who holds a degree in Physics. “I don’t remember not being interested in aviation. I built model airplanes as a kid and started flying lessons after high school. I later received my private pilot’s license and my instrument ticket.”
Orville’s enthusiasm for building planes has continued. The Tolers have owned six airplanes. They bought a wrecked 1947 Luscombe in 1975, rebuilt it and flew it for almost thirty years. Presently he owns a Cessna 150.
“My project airplane is a 1959 Piper Pacer,” explained Orville. “It is a fabric-covered 150 hp airplane with four seats. This plane was damaged in a windstorm around 1965 and I bought it on e Bay last spring.”
Parts are scattered throughout the garage, hangar and house. There are still many parts missing.
“I’m in the process of hunting down the parts and putting it all back together,” said Orville who hopes to finish the plane sometime next summer. “I’ve purchased a rebuilt engine. Lance Bartels, an aircraft mechanic and inspector, is helping and trying to keep me from doing anything stupid—he has a tough job there!”
When Orville finishes it he plans to fly it as often as possible. Orville Toler is a man who is enjoying life. So is Olivia, who is actively supporting a new environmental project that involves planes. She describes her experience as “a spiritual one.”
“In the summer of 2000, Bill Lishman, of Operation Migration, literally dropped (flew) in,” explained Olivia. “He was researching private airstrips where he could land and lay over the night with his first trial run establishing a new migration route for whooping cranes, an endangered species. The first year was with young sand hill cranes—our grass strip was part of that first year.”
Following is a partial account, as reported by Heather Ray, of this event as described on the Internet at the website of Operation Migration In the Field.
“Oct 13 2000:
We circled to the south before we landed at Cherry Hill owned by Orville and Olivia Toler. On final approach, we passed over the heads of a small crowd gathered to witness our arrival and touched down at the far end of the runway out of sight and ear-shot of anything human….We retreated to the hospitality of Olivia Toler and her friends. As it turned out, we were her guests for the next three days and she could not have been more gracious. She and her friends fed and entertained us over the weekend and we enjoyed the countryside. Brown County shines at this time of year, outrageous colors, endless pristine forests, winding roads through quaint villages and people who are the heart and soul of the country.”
“We had a pitch-in every night—two at our farmhouse,” reflected Olivia. “The third night was a bonfire at Bob Allen’s…it was a great community affair. We all had a wonderful time! Interviews were done via our phone with national news media. Since that first year it’s been more politically correct to land at the Muskatatuck Wild Bird Refuge. This is a long-term project and, at some point, weather and wind providing, they may again land at Cherry Hill.”
Olivia’s joyful voice reported that she received a phone call from an excited neighbor on December 19th coaxing her to go outdoors. Cranes could be seen and heard between the two neighbors’ homes.
To learn more about Operation Migration and to view wonderful photographs visit <www.operationmigration.org/field_2000_fal_i.html>.