95 years ago, a bank teller and schoolteacher decided to quit their jobs and pursue another career option, managing an orchard. Richard and Laurine Kimmel established Kimmel Orchard in 1925. Since then, Kimmel has been dedicated to agricultural education research, historic preservation, and wholesome family experiences. Not only is it fun to reminisce on the past, but it also reminds us of how far we have come and who we have to thank for where we are today.
Richard Kimmel was born in 1898 and grew up in Nebraska City. He graduated from Nebraska City High School in 1915. Following his graduation, he attended Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa where he graduated with a degree in business administration in 1919. After his service in World War 1, he became a bank teller for Otoe County Bank. As mentioned above, he quit bank telling and started Kimmel Orchard in 1925. Although it may seem like a big career change, Richard was involved in his family's farm that his grandfather acquired in the 1850s. However, this didn't fully prepare him for owning an orchard causing him and Laurine to learn as they went, which was not an easy task.
Laurine Oetgen, later known as Laurine Kimmel, also grew up in Nebraska City and graduated from the same high school. The couple married shortly after Kimmel Orchard opened in 1925, but they had known each other well for many years prior. Their families had even been long-standing neighbors in Nebraska City causing no surprise when the two got married. Laurine attended the University of Nebraska and developed a love for art and painting. She later became an art teacher for the Omaha public schools. "American Architecture" is one of her well-known water-color series of old out-houses. Many of her artwork can still be found at KHN Center for the Arts.
In 1926, Richard and Laurine built their house directly on the orchard. If you have visited Kimmel, you have probably seen the historic home overlooking the rolling hills and beautiful fruit trees. The house was refurbished in 2010, but still captures the history of the home, as if it was 1926. It is still used for visiting faculty and special guests. Watch our video "Fun Facts about Kimmel Orchard" to catch a glimpse of the house and to learn other unique facts about Kimmel!
Today, the Apple Barn is well known for its canned goods and fresh fruit, however, it didn't start his way. When the orchard first opened the produce was sold at a fruit stand on the paved highway near the orchard. In October of 1951, the main apple varieties grown on the orchard were Jonathan, Red Delicious, Winesap, and Pippins. If you read the "Apple Variety Uses" blog, you may notice this is a small number of apple types compared to today! Now, around 21 different varieties of apples can be found in the orchard.
Unfortunately, in 1993 Laurine passed away, and shortly after in 1996, Richard followed. However, in 1967, Richard sold the orchard to William Oberdieck. Oberdieck was the orchard's longtime manager and became acquainted with the Kimmels around 1943. As a German immigrant and a prisoner of war at Camp Atlanta in Nebraska, he was allowed to work for the orchard but became close friends with Richard Kimmel. When World War II ended, prisoners were sent home. However, with Kimmel's sponsorship, Oberdieck and his wife emigrated to the US shortly after, and he continued to manage the orchard until he purchased it from Richard. The orchard was sold again, but eventually made it back to the Richard P. Kimmel and Laurine Kimmel Charitable Foundation and is operated as it is today.
The orchard is filled with history and many stories. Our Kimmel Education and Research Center contains more historical knowledge, news articles, and pictures to learn from. We are grateful for the hard-work Richard and Laurine dedicated to the orchard. Our hope to continue their goal of education and dedication to the community for many more years to come!
Alyssa Rosenbaum - Education and Food Safety Intern