The John and Norma Michels Heritage Center
In 2014, roughly ten months before his death, John Michels Sr. met with a number of his children on the porch of John Michels Jr.’s home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to discuss the assets he would leave behind and his wishes for his legacy. A number of his children were present to attend the wedding of John Jr.’s younger daughter, Charlotte. John Sr. expressed his desire for his offspring to take the real estate properties he owned in North Spokane and utilize them to create some sort of trust that would reflect his life and beliefs. The property he wanted to deed to this entity would be his legacy to future generations.
The father and children discussed broadly a few ideas, and following the meeting and wedding had a video conference, in which all nine children were invited. No definitive plans on how to proceed were made, except that we would meet again and pursue the idea further.
The two farm properties John Sr. wished to turn over to his children for the legacy are a farm outside the town of Reardon, Washington and a farm in the unincorporated community of Colbert, WA.
Today, farming on the Colbert property is minimal to non-existent. More significant farming takes place on the Reardon property. Of the two, the Colbert property has more significant value, in aesthetic, sentimental, historic and real value.
- Aesthetic: it is a more pleasant place, with trees, climbing rocks, natural springs, and a rolling hillside.
- Sentimental: the property is the farmland the father of John Sr. purchased when he migrated as a farmer from North Dakota in the 1940’s to Spokane. His brothers Ed and Frank followed him to Spokane, along with his mother, and many more Michels’s.
- Historic: The farm represents the final phase of a migration that began in the Rhineland region of Germany, to the Banat Region of present day Romania that followed the defeat of the Turks by Christian forces in the 16th century, when Austrian-Hungarian Empress Maria Teresa promoted a migration of German farmers to the area for settlement: draining swampland and building farms and towns throughout the region. This property is the last piece of farmland that is both owned by the Michels family, as well as the end of the culture of farming in the Michels family. From Colbert, the Michels family pursued education and became Engineers, Teachers, Lawyers, shopkeepers, community leaders, government leaders and servants, business owners and more.
- Real Value: The area surrounding the property is both prime agricultural land, and its pleasant and plentiful space is making is a popular place for professional people to build nice homes and commute to their work in Spokane. A new highway has also recently been completed to improve access to this area.
This final point regarding real value makes it a pressing matter to move quickly to preserve the Colbert farm in order to protect its important Historical significance to generations today and into the future.
Proposal to Protect the Michels heritage and legacy
The proposal here is to create the John and Norma Michels Heritage Center for the purpose to protect the Colbert farm from commercial or residential development. The Heritage Center will, once securing the Colbert property, begin plans to develop a Heritage Center that will interpret the significance and history of the farm for future generations of children of those who trace their lineage back to this great migration. Development will also take advantage of the spacious beauty of the land to bring visitors and income to the farmland as determined by the Center’s board of directors. The board of directors will consist of all children of John and Norma who share the vision and wish to place a part in it, along with Norma Michels, who currently is in legal ownership of the property.
Vision for the Heritage Center
Mrs. Norma Michels was Norma Kinzer before marrying John Sr. Her mother was Margaret Dahmen, who prior to marrying Henry Kinzer, lived and worked on a large and highly successful Dairy farm outside of Uniontown, Washington. The barn of the farm has been preserved and is now a significant tourist attraction in the Palouse region of Washington South of Spokane. The Michels Heritage Center will serve as a bookend to the preserved history of these two significant families who migrated to Eastern Washington, married, and whose progeny play a significant part of the culture of America we enjoy today and will continue to enjoy into the future.
Because the Colbert farm has no existing structures, the Heritage Center will be new and forward looking. This will mean that the land itself will be a vital part of the experience, as guests will walk the farmland, enjoy the wildlife that passes through its spacious area, and connect experientially with past generations. The design of the new Heritage Center will be somewhat futuristic while blending into the environment, reminding visitors that history is the past, and that like the generations that brought us here, the spirit is forward looking.
The center will house artifacts, pictures, and an interpretation of the historical significance of the property.
Financial supporting of the Heritage Center
There are many excellent business models for the Heritage Center, including the Dahmen Barn. The board of directors will determine the best avenues. Possibilities include a hotel, hunting opportunities, meetings and weddings, outdoor music festivals, etc.