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creative:impact - Ralph Schumacher’s roots run deep

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Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
A farmer works with a young visitor at the Waterloo Farm Museum's Pioneer Day 2021.

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


"My name is Ralph Schumacher, and I was born on October 14, 1948. I lived on the family farm which has been in the Schumacher since 1874. The farm is 180 acres and is located one mile from the Waterloo Farm Museum. After high school I attended Michigan State University and earned a BS degree in mathematics. I was hired by General Electric out of college and worked for them in Erie, PA. for 28 years retiring in 1999 as the Manager of Locomotive Manufacturing."

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Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
Ralph Schumacher

"I married my wife Donna in 1971 and we had two daughters, Jean and Kate. Kate is named Kate Realy Schumacher after her great, great grandmother Catherine Realy, who lived in the Waterloo Farm Museum House along with my grandmother, Ida Schumacher, who was the youngest of the seven Realy children."

"Donna and I returned to the farm in 1999 and I became active in the historical society a few years later. I served on the board for several years, but my passion is in doing setup and teardown for all the events which take place at the museum. I also work admissions for several of the events."

'Donna passed in 2016 from complications from MS which she had for over 40 years. The family established a $5000 annual scholarship in her memory and honor for Stockbridge High School students attending MSU. Donna and both daughters are also MSU grads. I am also an active member of the Waterloo Township Planning Commission and the Stockbridge Area Educational Foundation."

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Ralph Schumacher
Ralph Schumacher and his family.


The Waterloo Area Historical Society operates two locations—the Waterloo Farm Museum and the Dewey School Museum. Far removed from the hum of neighboring towns, our quiet, rural environs provide the first clue that visitors have truly begun their journey back in time to the 19th century.

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Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
Waterloo Farm 1850s Farmhouse

The Waterloo Farm Museum is a complex of farm buildings including: the 150-year-old farmhouse; a restored wooden Perkins windmill; a log house with stone fireplace; a workshop with blacksmith's forge; a bake house with working brick oven; the granary, which now serves as a gift shop; the Icehouse; the Milk Cellar or Springhouse.

Dewey School Museum.jpg
Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
Dewey School Museum

The one-room Dewey School Museum, located three miles north of the Farm, was built in the mid-1800s and held classes until 1956. The Dewey School Museum welcomes school tours from near and far to experience 19th Century rural schooling and is open for tours during special events. Admission to the Dewey School is by donation. Our museums are open seasonally--from Memorial Day to Labor Day on Friday and Saturday afternoons-- and for special events.

Looking for a vivid glance into 19th century pioneer life? The Waterloo Farm Museum has just the thing. The museum features farm buildings nestled in the curve of a scenic rural road. Highlights include a farmhouse built in 1850s, a rare restored wooden Perkins windmill, a log house with stone fireplace, a woodworking and blacksmith’s workshop with working forge, the granary which now serves as a gift shop, and many other buildings that supported 1880s farm life. The Dewey School Museum, located three miles north of the Farm, is a one-room schoolhouse that was built in the mid-1800s and held classes until 1956.

Experience life on the Farm during the mid-19th century, Civil War encampments and working blacksmiths. Tour the 1850s fourteen room farmhouse, log cabin and outbuildings. Vendors, demonstrators and concessions available. Please no pets. Service Dogs are Welcome.


Waterloo Farm Museum and Dewey School Museum

Waterloo Area Historical Society on Facebook


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Thanks for tuning in each week to meet people connected to creative area businesses, products, programs, and services that impact and add to our local quality of life, place, and economy. You know, cultural heritage, defined as the preservation of heritage assets inherited from past generations, is one of our creative businesses. Straddling Washtenaw and Jackson Counties, the Waterloo Farm and Dewey School Museum are cultural heritage sites that have preserved the way of life of pioneer farmers in Michigan, including their family life and their children's schooling. Our guest, Ralph Schumacher, is deeply connected to these properties that are now protected and operated by the Waterloo Area Historical Society. Ralph, welcome to creative:impact.

Ralph Schumacher: Thank you, Deb. It's great to be with you this morning.

Deb Polich: Yeah, I'm looking forward to our conversation. So, I mentioned that you're deeply connected to these sites. Please tell us how you became connected.

Ralph Schumacher: Well, I'm a direct descendant of the Realy family that lived in the farm museum home. My grandmother was Ida Realy, who married my grandfather, John Schumacher, and they lived about a mile apart up a dirt road from the farm museum. And so, I am a living descendant of the people that lived there for years.

Deb Polich: Wow. So many people go searching for your heritage. And you've just lived it.

Ralph Schumacher: I have. Yes. And that's why I have such a deep passion for the museum, because I know my grandmother would appreciate everything that is going on there today.

Deb Polich: And I understand your wife's family is also connected?

Ralph Schumacher: No. My wife's family is not.

Deb Polich: Oh, I misunderstood that. Okay, well, scratch that one. So, really, what was it like growing up there? I mean, you know, did you have a sense that you were in a historic space, or was it just home to you?

Ralph Schumacher: It was just home for me. You know, I grew up on the farm, on the Schumacher family farm, and, you know, we just did farm works and chores all our life. And it was just a way of life. We had no sense of a historical thing that was going on at that point in time.

Deb Polich: So, it's not every property owner who decides to leave their home--their farm property--for the community good. What do you know about the decision to preserve this property so future generations could learn about pioneer days in Michigan?

Ralph Schumacher: Well, obviously, one of the main things that we try to do is preserve the heritage there and educate people about what life was like back in the 1850s through the 1880s, and try to give them a sense of, you know, how easy they have it relative today to what was a day in the life of a person back then and the fact that communication was very limited. You basically communicated face-to-face because there was no electricity. There were no phones. And so, everybody, you know, basically stopped to talk. And that's how they communicated information and what was going on in the world.

Deb Polich: Well, in the Farm Museum, it's kind of like its own little town. There's the farmhouse, a windmill, a log house, a workshop and blacksmith's forge, a bakehouse, a greenery, an icehouse, and a milk cellar. Was this how it was for most farms of the time?

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Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
Waterloo Farm Blacksmith Shop

Ralph Schumacher: I would say not for most farms, because, you know, like a blacksmith shop, not everyone would have that. But there was one probably located close to where you were. But an icehouse, a milk cellar, a windmill, and, obviously, the barns were staples for every small family farm, you know, in the area.

Waterloo Farm Ice House.jpg
Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
Waterloo Farm Ice House

Deb Polich: So, the Dewey School House, which is also part of the historical society's properties. That's north of where you were. How did it become part of the Historical Society Group?

Ralph Schumacher: Well, that schoolhouse was a one-room schoolhouse that had been there for generations. In fact, my mother's family all attended school there. They lived about two miles from the schoolhouse. And it was available for this society to take over because the Stockbridge School District had no use for it anymore. And it's a brick building maintained in great shape. And it provides the opportunity for the local schoolchildren, usually from second to fourth grade, to come there and learn what it was like to go to school, you know, over a century ago.

Deb Polich: And I know it was operated until 1956. Did you by chance begin your education there?

Ralph Schumacher: No, I actually went to the Harbor Ridge Community Schools in Munith at that point in time because they had, you know, started to shut down all the one-room schoolhouses at that point in time.

Deb Polich: Oh, too bad. What a memory that would have been. 89 one WEMU creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Ralph Schumacher of the Waterloo Area Historical Society. So, Ralph, I have a gaggle of grandkids, and I'm wondering if I wanted to come to the site. First of all, do you have regular hours? And then, when we get there, what would we expect to discover?

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Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
A farmer and a young visitor at the 2021 Pioneer Day at the Waterloo Farm Museum.

Ralph Schumacher: Well, we do have regular weekend hours only because there isn't enough traffic to staff the museum with volunteers during the normal week. But we do have four events during the year that would be wonderful for anyone to attend. We just completed the Blacksmiths, Soldiers, and Log Cabin Weekend. And we are having an Antique Tractor, Truck, and Farm Equipment Weekend on the 13th and 14th of August. But our major event for the year, which I would encourage everyone to attend if they can, is our Pioneer Day that takes place this year, on October 9th from 10 to 5, and we have the entire museum open for a day, fully staffed. And we usually have in the neighborhood of around, oh, 1500 people show up during those seven hours to visit the museum and see everything that's going on. They have the opportunity to try and see different things that were happening back in the 1800s. And we have vendors there that sell their products, and we just have a wonderful day with all the people visiting and seeing what's going on in the museum. We also have a wonderful event in December, December 3rd to the 4th, which is Christmas on the Farm, where we actually have the farmhouse all decorated up inside like it would have been back in the 1800s.

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Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
2021 Christmas on the Farm event at the Waterloo Farm Museum.

Deb Polich: Wow. It sounds like quite an operation. How does the Waterloo Area Historical Society manage and operate it? What's it take?

Ralph Schumacher: Well, number one, it's all volunteers. And so, there's nothing there that people don't do out of the goodness of their heart. And one of the main things that I like to do is do this setup and teardown for the events. I've become quite a good person setting up tents. And every time we have to put up a tent, they usually get me there to do that.

Deb Polich: It's your special talent. Your special power.

Ralph Schumacher: The other one is we use a lot of wood because a lot of this, the big house, the wood stove inside, all the heating inside the house is done by wood and the same way with the Dewey School, is with the potbelly stove. So, we use quite a bit of wood. So, one of the things that I also do is try to keep the places stocked with enough wood to keep the fires burning.

Deb Polich: And I imagine it takes a lot of energy and resources to preserve these buildings.

Ralph Schumacher: Yes, it does. And that's obviously a concern. On an ongoing basis, the having the financial resources to, you know, just keep up with the everyday maintenance--mowing the lawn. We just recently in the past two years put on a brand-new metal roof on the farmhouse, which costs about $40,000. And we had to borrow money from the bank--the local bank--to get that project funded. And we also went out and solicited panels for the roof at $100 each that people could make a contribution and get their name listed on a plaque that sits inside one of the barns.

Deb Polich: That's great. Now, so, you obviously live there. What about your descendants? Are they connected to the farm as well and the sites?

Ralph Schumacher: Well, my descendants are...I have two daughters, and they both are members of the society. And they try to get and visit there if they can. They both live out of state, so it's harder for them. But, yeah, there is a deep heritage inside of them as well. In fact, my one daughter, my youngest daughter, is named Kate Realy Schumacher and Realy being her middle name and she's named Kate after Catherine Realy, who is her great, great grandmother.

Waterloo Farm Realy & Hannewald Barns.jpg
Ralph Schumacher
Waterloo Area Historical Society
Waterloo Farm Realy & Hannewald Barns

Deb Polich: Wow. What a special site and place for you and your family and all of our community. So, I'm going to go. I'm going to take my family and do a field trip. And I want to thank you, Ralph, for sharing this heritage with us, both your own personal story and stories about the sites.

Ralph Schumacher: Okay. Good. I was happy to do it. And let me know when you're coming, and I'll make sure I'm there to give you the personal tour.

Deb Polich: Oh, terrific. Terrific. That's Ralph Schumacher. He grew up on the 19th century farm that, along with the Dewey School Museum, are centerpieces of the Waterloo Area Historical Society. Find out more about Ralph and how to visit these cultural heritage sites at WEMU dot org. This is creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host, Mat Hopson is our producer. We'll be back again next Tuesday with another creative Washtenaw guest on this, your community NPR radio station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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Polich co-hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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