For some, husking pegs are historic remnants of bygone days. For Mapha Schaadt, Cecil, Ohio, the peg is a tool, and one she puts to impressive use each fall at the Ohio State Corn Husking competition. In October 2003, at age 90, Mapha stripped a stand of corn to take first place in her category (women over 50), husking 144 pounds of corn in 20 minutes. "That's pretty good for a grandma with 10 grandchildren," she says modestly.
Mapha might well have triumphed in the national competition as well, held a week later in Oakley, Kan., had she not suffered a back sprain while hooking and unhooking bean wagons (at 90!) during harvest. A year earlier, after all, she took fifth place in the nationals, husking 150 pounds in 20 minutes.
Given current technology, it is almost impossible to believe that hand harvesting one ear at a time was how farmers brought in the corn crop. In that era, a strong corn husker was held in almost as much esteem as are professional athletes today. Husking competitions began popping up in the 1920s, and some drew crowds of thousands. At the 1937 Ohio competition, Nobel Goodman dazzled spectators by picking 33 1/2 bushels (2,346 pounds) in 80 minutes. It is a record that still stands, and is unlikely to be challenged.
Husking competitions continue today in many states as fall festivals. In Ohio, the two-day event at Upper Sandusky includes a working show of corn collectibles ranging from pegs to planters.
Mapha is a regular at those events, which celebrate traditional farm life. It is the only life she's ever known. "I helped my daddy when I was a little girl, just 8 years old," she recalls. "I went to the fields with my dad and granddad, and after I got married, I helped my husband with the field work." She thrives on fresh air and exercise, and greatly enjoys the camaraderie of the husking competition. "I'm always the oldest person husking in the competitions," she says, "but that doesn't make any difference to me. I just love to do it."
As a girl, Mapha attended a one-room school through the eighth grade. After graduating from high school in 1932, she worked as a tomato picker in the fields near her home. It was a different era, one before migrant workers from Texas and Mexico moved that far north. "I was paid five cents for each hamper of tomatoes," she recalls, "but they had to be quality tomatoes. I generally filled 100 hampers a day." Later, she helped pull, top, and load sugar beets for a processor in Paulding, Ohio.
All of that followed a solid education in field work. Mapha recalls driving her father's team of four Belgians, pulling a rotary hoe. As a girl, she also harrowed beans and corn and ran the hayloader during hay season. In the fall, working in the corn fields alongside her father and grandfather, she'd husk 100 bushels a day. Everything was accounted for. "My grandfather had platform scales in the barnyard," she says, "and he insisted that everything that went into the granary be weighed."
Mapha and her husband, Ray, raised four girls on their 200-acre farm. Following in their mother's footsteps, the girls grew up helping with farm work. Today, Mapha lives alone (Ray died 28 years ago), but at the start of her ninth decade has slowed down only slightly. She leaves the heavy work for a son-in-law who retired two years ago and lives nearby. Still, she helps a neighbor raise heifer calves for his dairy, and she has no qualms about climbing into the mow to throw down hay.
There's little down-time for Mapha. In the winter she quilts, carefully incorporating scraps from sewing projects over the years. "My goal is to make either a quilt or a comforter for each of my 10 grandchildren," she says. She's an active volunteer at her church, where she's a member of the Altar Society and helps plan the annual fall festival and Christmas party. She also serves on a Paulding County Farm Service Agency committee, representing local farmers.
In the growing season, when she's not farming, Mapha is gardening. She plants both vegetable and flower gardens, and puts up enough canned goods to stock family dinners at her place (often attended by as many as 30). She grows red potatoes, and sometimes stores several bushels of those. To some, it looks like work. To Mapha, it represents the cycles of life on the farm, and she wouldn't miss a bit of it. "I just thank the Lord for each day that I have continued good health," she says. FC
Mapha's Husking Highlights
(Husking for 20 minutes unless otherwise noted.)
• Oct. 19, 1985: Ohio state contest, novice class (Mapha's debut in competitive cornhusking): 85 lbs. in 10 minutes, 6th place.
• Oct. 3, 1986: Ohio state contest: 174 lbs., 3rd place (qualifying for nationals, where she took 8th place, husking 267 lbs. in 20 minutes).
• Oct. 10, 1987: Ohio state contest, 140 lbs., 5th place.
• Oct. 15, 1988: Ohio state contest, 222 lbs., 7th place.
• Oct. 7, 1989: Ohio open contest, 242 lbs., 2nd place.
• Oct. 14, 1989: Ohio state contest, 268 lbs., 8th place.
• Oct. 6, 1990: open class, 231 lbs., 5th place.
• Oct. 12, 1991: Ohio state contest, 216 lbs., 4th place.
• Oct. 10, 1992: Ohio state contest, 187 lbs., 8th place.
• Oct. 16, 1993: Ohio state contest, 218 lbs., 3rd place (qualifying for nationals, held the next day at Upper Sandusky, where she took 3rd place in the class for women over 50, husking 184 lbs.).
• Oct. 8, 1994: Ohio state contest, 215 lbs., 5th place.
• Oct. 14, 1995: Ohio state contest, 182 lbs., 2nd place, women over 50 (qualifying for the nationals held Oct. 19 in Oakley, Kan., where she took 5th place in the open class for 210 lbs.).
• Oct. 12, 1996: Ohio state contest, 198 lbs., 3rd place, women over 50.
• Oct. 10, 1997: Ohio state contest, 133 lbs., 3rd place (qualifying for the nationals, held Oct. 19 at Monmouth, Ill., where she took 6th place for 190 lbs.).
• Oct. 10, 1998: Ohio state contest, 157 lbs., 3rd place (qualifying for the nationals, held Oct. 18 at Sioux Falls, S.D., where she took 7th place for 176 lbs.).
• Oct. 9, 1999: Due to a death in the family, Mapha missed the state competition.
• Oct. 17, 1999: Nationals, Gothenberg, Neb., 100 lbs. in 10 minutes (competition ended early due to inclement conditions).
• Oct. 14, 2000: Ohio state contest, 203 lbs., 1st place (qualifying for nationals, held Oct. 22 at Kimballton, Iowa, where she took 8th place for 128 lbs. during a driving rain).
• October 2001: No Ohio competition held.
• Oct. 12, 2002: Ohio state contest, 128 lbs., 1st place in the class for women over 50.
• Oct. 17, 2003: Ohio state contest, 129 lbs., 1st place in the class for women over 50 (qualifying her for the nationals, held Oct. 18 at Upper Sandusky, Ohio, where she took 5th place for 150 lbs.).
• Oct. 9, 2004: Ohio state contest, 144 lbs., 1st place.
Jan Shellhouse is a freelance writer in Ohio.