By Rebecca Goodman
Enquirer staff writer
WHITEWATER TWP. - Edwin Nickolas Barth was the oldest farmer in this western Hamilton County township of about 5,500 people. He died Sunday morning at age 97.
Born in a log cabin on Nov. 5, 1906, on his father's farm atop a hill called Fox Ridge, he weighed only 21/2 pounds. Frost was on the ground that Monday morning, and the undersized baby wasn't expected to survive the winter. But his mother, Elizabeth, diligently kept him warm, and her baby - with eyes as blue as the sky over the farm - lived.
Because no priest was nearby, his parents asked a neighbor to baptize him. After the chill of winter gave way to the warmth of spring, his folks took him out of the cabin for the first time and down to Harrison for a proper Catholic baptism.
The farm on the hill was his destiny. Some 75 years later, Edwin Barth would attribute his longevity to the hard work it required of him.
Mr. Barth farmed for more than 80 years. He was still driving a tractor and baling hay until just before his wife, Nellie Kolb Barth, died in 1991. As recently as two years ago, he was driving his tractor around the farm - mostly by memory, as his eyesight had dimmed.
"He continued to work as long as he could - doing as much as he could," said his daughter Carol Anthony of Harrison. "He was just so used to hard work. He didn't know a day without work from sunup till sundown. It was in his blood."
Mr. Barth was of German descent. His father, Nickolas Barth, bought the farm of about 130 acres on Fox Ridge in Whitewater Township the year before Edwin was born.
He attended a one-room school on Fox Ridge. For a year, he lived in town with a cousin so he could go to St. John the Baptist School. His formal education ended after the eighth grade, but he was well read and well versed in local history.
"He had to be on the farm helping to support his mother, (because) his father died young,'' his daughter said.
As a young boy, he completed chores before attending Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Harrison. In 1922 - when he was 15 - he hauled gravel in a horse-drawn wagon to help the congregation build its new church. And in 1937, he and his brother set up the fish and brat stand at the St. John the Baptist Church festival. He and his family have operated the stand every year since.
"Edwin was always there to volunteer - from barn raisings to family emergencies to farm chores," said his daughter.
In 1931, Mr. Barth and his brother, Lawrence "Butch" Barth, bought the first local truck with dual rear wheels, for $660. They used it to haul tomatoes over dusty country roads to a cannery in Cincinnati, earning $12.50 a trip.
Mr. Barth married in 1941. A year later, he bought his own farm - a mile from the homeplace, which his brother was running. Together, they farmed more than 300 acres, including land leased from neighbors. They grew corn, hay, wheat and tobacco. They also raised hogs and beef cattle, and they milked cows.
The brothers also co-owned a school bus for 27 years, which they operated for the Southwest District (now the Southwest Local School District). They were popular with the kids because they passed out treats at Halloween, Christmas and the end of the school year.
Mr. Barth served on the Whitewater Township Volunteer Fire Department. He was also a 3rd Degree Knight in Harrison Council No. 2633 of the Knights of Columbus.
Mr. Barth was preceded in death by his wife as well as two sons, James Eugene, who died at age 5 in 1948, and Alvin George, who lived for three days after his birth in 1953.
In addition to his daughter Carol, survivors include: three sons, Louis, Dale and Roy, all of Harrison; two other daughters, Mildred Kraus of Dover, Ind., and Wilma Minger of Forest Park; 10 grandchildren; and six step-grandchildren.
Mass of Christian burial is 10:30 a.m. todayat St. John the Baptist Church, 110 N. Hill St., Harrison. Burial will be at St. John Cemetery.
Memorials: St. John the Baptist School, c/o John C. Brater Funeral Home, 201 S. Vine St., Harrison, OH 45030.
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