Champion Corn Husker at 90

Meet an Ohio grandmother who is a better corn husker than women almost half her age. Old-time farm chore keep her young.

| March 2005

  • champion corn husker - Schaadt in competition
    Mapha Schaadt whipping through rows of corn in a 2003 husking competition. At age 90, Mapha has more energy than many women half her age.
    Farm Collector Magazine Staff
  • champion corn husker - Mapha Schaadt holding trophy
    Mapha Schaadt after taking first place in her division at the 2003 Ohio husking competition, where she picked 129 pounds in 20 minutes. Her winning corn husker technique includes using a husking peg, rather than the hook favored by many competitors.
    Photo: Farm Collector Magazine Staff

  • champion corn husker - Schaadt in competition
  • champion corn husker - Mapha Schaadt holding trophy

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.


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