SUTHERLAND—Kenneth “Ken” Orthmann is unfazed by his age.
At 92, the Sutherland man is an active part of the O’Brien County community of about 600.
“I’m very happy I can do that; I really am,” Ken said. “I feel very blessed. God has been very good to me.
“I’m capable and it gives me something to do rather than sitting around and watching television or something like that,” he said.
Nearly once a month, he volunteers his time at the Prairie Heritage Center, O’Brien County Conservation’s headquarters, southeast of Sutherland.
He and his wife of seven decades, Beverly, did that for many years together at the center before she died on Nov. 15, 2018, at the age of 91.
“On the weekends, they have volunteers open it up and keep it open,” Ken said. “I don’t quite get every month done now, but I try to be there a few times a year.”
He also helps park cars during O’Brien County Conservation’s Bison Burger Picnic and Lawn Concert every summer at the center.
“I enjoy going down to the heritage center because you meet new people coming in there all the time,” Ken said. “It’s kind of a job I really enjoy.”
He also takes pleasure in his part-time weekend job of checking the chemistry of the water for the indoor swimming pool and spa at the Willoway Complex in Sutherland, where he lives.
“I enjoy this here, too, because it gives me something to do,” Ken said. “I’m not the only one that does it.”
He has been Sutherland United Methodist Church’s treasurer for about 60 years.
“This takes quite a little time so they don’t ask me to do anything more,” said Ken, who taught Sunday School at the church for about 12 years. “I’ve been president of the board and lay leader a couple of times. That was a long time ago.”
He is one of the founding members of the Sutherland Ruritan Club — a civic service organization that was formally chartered on Aug. 15, 1967 — and volunteers for the group’s activities throughout the year.
“I enjoy the fellowship — I really do — and the opportunity to serve and do different things around town,” said Ken, who has served as the club’s president and secretary in the past. “There’s a lot of fellowship involved. That’s what I really enjoy — and the meals before our meetings.”
While he has pulled back from being a full-time farmer, the rural Sutherland native still helps out his son David nearly every year on the 118-year-old family farm, which is located about five miles north of town.
“I ran the combine a lot this fall,” Ken said. “It’s gratifying to be able to go out there and do that.”
He was born on May 28, 1927, to Edwin “Ed” and Nellie (Troxel) Orthmann and raised on the family farm near Sutherland.
Ken graduated in the spring of 1945 from Sutherland Consolidated School and enlisted in the U.S. Navy that fall as World War II was coming to an end.
He was primarily stationed in California at Naval Station Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, midway between Oakland and San Francisco.
“That island was built for a World’s Fair in 1939,” Ken said. “It was artificially built. After the war came along, the Navy took it over.”
He attended the naval station’s electronics school for about 13 months and worked on all kinds of electronic equipment, including radios, radar and sonar.
Toward the end of his time in the Navy, Ken was one of 600-700 crew members of the USS Badoeng Strait, an escort carrier, during the latter half of 1947.
“I wanted to go to Hawaii, Japan, but we never got there,” Ken said.
The ship, which was only a couple of years old at the time, frequently traveled back and forth between San Francisco and San Diego.
“It was a very routine thing,” Ken said. “We were just getting things ready and making sure things were working right on it. There was no war at the time.”
His Navy service came to an end at the conclusion of 1947 and he returned home to the Midwest. He married his high school sweetheart, Beverly Bryant, on June 18, 1948.
Ken and Beverly graduated together in 1945 from Sutherland Consolidated School. Of the 20 members of their class, Ken and three others are still alive.
The Orthmanns began farming in 1948 near Clara City, MN, but eventually made their way back to the Sutherland area after about three years to farm and raise their family.
“We decided we liked it back here better, so we came back,” Ken said.
Ken and Beverly lived and farmed near Sutherland until they moved to town in 1986. Their family is made up of four children, 15 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren, plus many other relatives.
When he is not visiting his family members or taking part in one of his many community activities, Ken usually can be found at home at the Willoway Complex, which used to be the Sutherland Consolidated School he once attended.
However, on a nice, warm day, he may be fishing at a small pond on his family farm or out enjoying a drive across the countryside in his Chevrolet Impala.
“I like to go out and look at the agriculture,” Ken said. “I’ve farmed all my life. I like to go out and see how the crops are progressing.
“I love to drive a car; I always have,” he said. “I wouldn’t be afraid to take off for California on a nice day.”
This story was originally published in the Jan. 4, 2020, edition of The South O'Brien Sun.