Champion Corn Husker at 90

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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.
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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.

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. 

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