Long-time Granton contributor named citizen of the year
Even though there won’t be a parade this year to honor her contributions to the Granton community, the Granton Rotary Club has chosen Arlene Beilke as its Citizen of the Year. With no Granton Fall Festival parade this year, Arlene will be honored during the next Fall Festival alongside the 2021 Citizen of the Year.
The 88-year old was unanimously chosen as this year’s Citizen of the Year by the Rotary. As one of the older residents in the Granton area, Arlene said she was surprised but also happy to have been chosen as this year’s recipient.
“I was surprised,” she said when she first heard the news. “I was the last one picked (from Granton’s older generation). Almost all my friends were picked a long time ago.”
Born in the Neillsville area back in 1932 to Frederick and Vila Carstensen, Arlene said she grew up on a farm while attending school in Neillsville. As she grew older, she continued to do farm work while also taking on babysitting jobs for other area residents.
As she worked and moved around the area, Arlene met her future husband and Granton resident, Norman Beilke. Both having a love for roller skating, she said they spent a lot of time skating at the Granton Roller Rink, which is now the Granton Community Center. They were married on Aug. 25, 1949, and settled on Norman’s family farm in Granton, which had been in his family for 120 years.
“(His best friend) had asked him to take me to skate,” she said on how they met. “We went down to Wisconsin Dells and Norman was an excellent skater.”
In the years that followed, Arlene and Norman were a perfect unit, working together to accomplish things both on and off their farm. They had five children together: Jerold (Patsy) Beilke, Diane (Ronald) Vine, Marianne (David) Taylor, James Beilke and Bobby, who died in infancy.
While operating the farm, Norman also worked at the O.W. Trindal Feed Mill, which was formerly located across from the Granton Fire Station. On Aug. 31, 1977, Arlene said she and her husband purchased the mill and renamed it the Beilke Feed Mill and operated it together for the next 27 years.
“We had the feed mill, but we also had a farm,” she said. “We would milk cows and also had a herd of beef. We never had a bulk tank or a barn cleaner, we had a shovel and a wheelbarrow. We took it and did it all by hand just like they did in the old days.” It was during the 27-year period of operating the Beilke Feed Mill that both Norman and Arlene made most of their contributions to the community. Each year, they would sell feed to young FFA and 4-H club members to raise their animals for the Clark County Fair and would later purchase some of those same animals. As Norman was one of the first members of the Granton FFA when it was first chartered in 1941, they were strong supporters of the Granton FFA, for which they were honored with the Distinguished Service Award in 1990 by the chapter.
In addition to their work with the FFA, the Beilkes donated money to many area events, bought uniforms for the area’s softball teams and donated money for two children to attend a children’s camp for the disabled each year. At their business, Arlene said they would always have something to share with anyone who would stop by as their treat to the community.
“It was the only place the kids could go to get an ice cold pop for 25 cents,” she said. “We had a machine out front, anyone could go up to the machine and get one. That was our treat for the people in town. At Christmas we would have big boxes of peanuts at the counter, they could eat peanuts and drink pop. In the summer, we would grill out, anyone could come by and have a meal with us.”
The Beilkes are lifelong members of the Zion American Lutheran Church, located just down the road from where they lived. As a member of the church, Arlene taught Sunday School and Bible School for the children there for more than 50 years and was a member and treasurer of Ladies Aide for more than 30 years. Even today, she said many of the children who were taught by her at the church see her as a second mother to them and have many fond memories of old-fashioned adventures.
“I have gotten so many hugs,” she said. “A lot of them still call me Ma or Grandma.”
Though she already had a lot on her plate with running a business and farm, assisting at her church and raising her own children, Arlene didn’t stop there. In her free time, she would sew wedding dresses for all the brides-to-be in Granton, having sewed and altered more than 75 dresses for members of the community. She also used her sewing talents to work on other clothing items for community members such as band uniforms and cheerleader outfits.
“I used to make wedding dresses,” she said. “I sewed at all hours of the night. I probably made 75 wedding dresses. I made all the wedding dresses of the new brides in Granton back then.”
Norman passed away at the age of 80 in 2004 after 55 years of marriage. The Beilke Feed Mill was torn down a few years later and Arlene ended farm operations after she turned 73. Since then, she has joined the Granton Antique Tractor Club, which restored a 1948 Farmall Tractor she owns last year and she continues to sew for area residents and participate in activities at the Zion American Lutheran Church.