Brothers worked 'hard and smart' on landmark farm


Tom Kirvan
Legal News, Editor-in-Chief


It was more than a quarter-century ago when I journeyed out to an agricultural jewel south of Ann Arbor to weave a story on the two brothers who dedicated their lives to polishing that gem.

Howard and Kelven Braun were gracious hosts that day, sharing the better part of an afternoon, filling up my notebook with their secrets to success. Their sister, Grace Kennedy, added to the enjoyment of the day, telling a few family tales that otherwise would have gone untold.

Now, none of the three remain after Howard died July 18 at age 88, some 5 years after his brother passed away at age 82. Grace, a former writer for The Ypsilanti Press who worked in the Willow Run Bomber Plant during World War II, died little more than a month ago at age 98.

The three siblings were descendants of proud farm folk, the late Fred and Gertrude Braun. The family patriarch, who died at age 83 in 1983, bought the agricultural operation in 1922 from his parents. They paid off the mortgage during the lean Depression years when a gallon of milk fetched the dairy farmer a scant 5 cents a gallon. In 1930, he had saved enough to buy his first tractor and was “milking 24 cows.” The number had more than doubled by 1950 with his two sons as part of the milking team. Both boys were still in high school at the time, but as Howard said, “We’d been working on the farm since we were about 4.”

The lessons learned at their father’s side helped the Braun brothers build an impressive agricultural operation that stretched some 500 acres. The fields, the barns, the outbuildings – all neatly tended.

For years, they manned a demanding dairy operation, twice a day milking their herd – 365 days a year, 366 when the Gregorian calendar took a leap. They were up at 5 o’clock each morning, completing the first of their two daily milking routines three hours later.

After a bite of breakfast, they were back in the barns and fields, working feverishly to eventually bring crops of wheat, oats, corn, and hay to harvest.

The challenge, as always, was how to do the work of a dozen mere mortals with just two pairs of hands.

The secret?

“They work hard,” said sister Grace, who helped run the financial operation of the bustling farms. “And smart.”

So much so that the two-man operation seldom missed a beat.

Of course, there was the time that Howard was drafted into the Army, spending two years in military service that his sister jokingly referred to as a “bit of R & R” for the older of her two brothers.

“Everyone in his company grumbled about getting up at 6 in the morning,” Grace said with a smile. “To Howard, it was like he was on a vacation to get up that late.”

And then there was Kelven, one year Howard’s junior. Kelven’s last vacation?

“The 1956 Rose Bowl when Michigan State played UCLA,” he said without batting an eye during our interview in 1995.

The brothers weren’t able to take a vacation from developers either, many of whom persistently approached the pair about turning their farmland property into the next grand subdivision. The Brauns, just as intently, had been weighing their long-term options to keep the land green in perpetuity.

“There are some farmland preservation programs, but they’re underfunded now and probably will be for the foreseeable future,” said Kelven at the time. “But we’re not interested in selling. If we wanted to sell out to developers, we could have done that long ago.”

Some 5 years later, the Brauns were informed that more than 250 acres of their farmland had been purchased by the state under terms of a preservation program. Two years earlier, another 200-plus-acre chunk of the Braun property was bought by the state, according to Barry Lonik, who had championed farmland preservation causes in Washtenaw County for years.

“The Brauns have decided to leave a legacy that all of us will enjoy for years to come,” Lonik said some 15 years ago. “They deserve our gratitude for standing tall in the face of development pressure. Not many could do what they have done.”

The statement, in family terms, could serve as a fitting epitaph for the Braun brothers, who personified the value of hard work.

Their lives, spiced as they were with the occasional flare-up over land-use matters, were truly a wonder, now destined to be an example for other preservationists to follow.

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