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Bruvold honored for conservation work

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 10/14/2013 3:26 PM

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DECORAH, Iowa — Conservation threads through Lillian Bruvold's life.

At 90, Bruvold, an assistant soil commissioner, still creates table decorations for the Winneshiek County Soil and Water Conservation District awards banquet. She writes newsletter articles and promotes and judges the SWCD grocery bag decorating contest which publicizes Soil and Water Stewardship Week. The contest for fourth and fifth graders attracts 500 entries throughout the county with school and overall winners selected.

"It takes three to four hours to get through them," Bruvold said. "Some kids do a really good job."

She also judges the SWCD scholarship contest.

Her father, Helmer Orvella, was a Winneshiek County soil commissioner and did some of the first conservation work in the county employing strip cropping, installing terraces and putting a dam on his farm between Decorah and Ossian.

Bruvold taught country school for four years before marrying her husband, Harris. They farmed her family's farm and eventually bought a second farm. They built terraces, strip cropped and used minimum and no-till farming.

Bruvold continues to own both farms. Her son, Paul, farms the home place, and she rents the other farm insisting that her tenant use good conservation methods.

Her daughter, Lila, lives in Algona. Her son, Orval, was killed in a baling accident. Son Harlan died of cancer two years ago. She has nine grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and two step-great-grandchildren.

When Harris passed away 30 years ago, she and her family used the memorial money to help their rural church, Washington Prairie Lutheran, terrace its crop ground. She also established the Bruvold Young Farmer Award which honors young conservation-minded farmers. When her father and her son Orval died, the family donated money to plant trees by the church. For Harlan's memorial, they are restoring an oak savanna near the parsonage. Bruvold's ancestors were among church founders.

When Harris, a long-time SWCD commissioner, died, Bruvold took his place. When she moved to Decorah, she became an assistant soil commissioner continuing to help the commissioners. She attends all SWCD regular meetings.

When Harris was alive, the couple organized a soil and water stewardship tour each year for pastors. The last stop was a meal at the couple's farm. She and another commissioner's wife prepared the potato salad, cole slaw and other fixings for a chicken barbeque fundraiser held by the district every other year.

Bruvold's conservation commitment was honored recently when she received the Ruth Wagner Award from the Iowa Association of Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners. The award recognizes the contributions of an assistant soil commissioner.

"Lillian does a lot of the little things that make things run smoothly," said Todd Duncan, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Winneshiek County. "She is very well respected in the community. She has undertaken conservation efforts on her own farm and helps to pass along the conservation message."

She received the award at the Iowa Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners annual conference in Des Moines in September. Paul and his wife, Sue, and Lila were with her at the banquet. "I felt very humbled but it's an honor as well," Bruvold said.

A granddaughter posted a message about the award on Facebook, and Bruvold has received many well wishes.

"Faith, family, the farm and conservation all go together," Bruvold said. "Good conservation is keeping the soil where it should be, having waterways, using strip cropping, terracing if possible and using minimum and no till."

The majority of farmers do a good job of conservation, Bruvold said.

"But there are always ones that need improvement," she said.

Bruvold enjoys flower gardening and while she can't do as much as she used to, her home is surrounded by brightly blooming annuals and perennials. She arranges bouquets of daffodils, tulips, sweet pea, glads, dahlias and peonies for the tables at the Senior Citizen Meal Site throughout the summer. She also gives an opening message, leads table grace and carries trays for people who need help.

Bruvold loves to play bridge. She participates in the hospital auxiliary bridge marathon and belongs to several bridge clubs. Another hobby is quilting. She has stitched quilts for each of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"I think playing cards and being active is what keeps your mind going," she said.