If you are from Herkimer, New York, then you almost certainly know Mildred Wheeler, fondly known as Mimi. She has been instrumental in agricultural and government organizations for decades but is probably best known for her beautiful photography of farm scenes. Her photos graced the cover of FARMING many times as well as calendars and other farm publications.
Mimi was not born on a farm but after marrying Richard “Dick” Wheeler in 1968, it did not take her long to embrace the country life. She said her biggest adjustment to becoming a full-time dairy farmer’s wife was moving into a 200-year-old farmhouse and realizing it was a totally different lifestyle.
She has an extensive background in art, including a semester spent at the University of Siena School of Art in Siena, Italy, and a Masters in Art Education from Penn State University. Although Mimi did not completely leave the art world, her priorities shifted to raising her four children and becoming more active in the community. She has been a member of Herkimer County Legislation, President of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Herkimer County, county member of Properties, Natural Resources, Education, and Veterans Affairs committees, and a member of many other school and town groups. She also taught art part time at local schools for 30 years.
The community involvement did not deter her contributions to the farm. She learned to milk cows and chop crops. Until 2004, she ran the tractor, corn chopper and dump wagon. The cows were sold in 1997, and Dick died in 1998, and son Frederick took over the farm and turned it into a cropping operation. He lives on the farm along with his mom. Mimi has managed to keep the farm lively and fun for her 10 grandchildren. She still rides four-wheelers with them, takes them bike riding and swimming, and mows lawns, gardens and tends flowers. Thirteen-year-old granddaughter Abigail describes her as fabulous and 5-year-old Logan agrees. Mimi pushes all her grandchildren to enter exhibits into the Herkimer County Fair.
The Herkimer County Fair has benefitted from Mimi’s photography expertise. Every year she takes a thousand pictures at the fair and Central NY Farm Progress Days. The fair directors enter her photos in the international fair convention in Las Vegas, and she has won several times. In 2011, the Herkimer County Farm Bureau honored her with a plaque of dedication for her years of service. Additionally, for 17 years, she was in charge of the Farm Bureau scholarship.
Mimi personifies many farm women with her energy and dedication to her family and farm life. She still helps son Fred when he is moving equipment by driving the pilot car. The Wheeler family always had horses. One horse, Apollo (shown in picture), has been with the family since he was three. Mimi lovingly takes care of the 34-year-old quarter equine every day including warming his grain in a microwave and warming his water during the winter.
Daughter Laurel said she would not change anything about her life growing up and “Mimi is still the focus of the farm.”
Although Mimi is satisfied living on the farm and will probably be there forever, I asked her what advice she would give a 24-year-old girl today marrying a farmer. Her response, “Spend some time on the farm and try to understand the demands of farm life before marrying. Also try to carve a life out for yourself and have your own interests.”
I hope all farming mothers and grandmothers like Mimi have a wonderful Mother’s Day on May 8.