Three generations of Glisans continue 200-year-old business


September 06, 1992|By LINELL SMITH | LINELL SMITH,LINELL SMITH is a features writer for The Sun.

The rolling farmlands of Frederick County billow in waves of green and gold, like clothes fluttering on a backyard line. Just 40 minutes from the urgencies of Baltimore and Washington, as you travel through this countryside increasingly given to subdivisions, you find your way back to a time based on seasons and a way of life shaped by the land.

There, Glisan Farms stands out. Comprised of five adjoining dairy farms and close to 1,000 acres, Glisan Farms continues a family business more than 200 years old. It is heritage suddenly exposed, a fertile green remnant of the past, a reminder of the rural path Maryland took to the 20th century.

"These are what you call family farms," says tenant farmer Roland Sensenig, who works Glisan Farm No. 5 with the help of his wife, LeAnn, and their three young children. "These days, you see more and more milk factories: the places with 3,000 cows. When you get that big, you're working with people rather than cows."

Glisan Farms survives and succeeds with the hard work oseveral extended families -- owner's and tenants' families -- who together form a business as well as a community that depends on the commitment of each member. At the head of this "corporation" is 90-year-old Hilda Glisan, a woman carved from 19th century farming stock and values. She manages the farms with the help of her daughter, June, and other family members, including granddaughter Heidi, a vivacious college student, who represents the future of the farms. On the individual farms labor many resident families, including that of Mary Appleby, who is helping to raise her grandchildren on the farm where she raised her son.

The story of Glisan Farms, told here from the perspectives of Hilda Glisan, Heidi Glisan and Mary Appleby, is one of perseverance. Each woman represents a different era and a different relationship to the farms, yet they share more than the Mount Airy acres that are their livelihood and home.

From the trio of glimpses that follow, it's clear to see that each woman has received an inheritance: a devotion to farming and a deep allegiance to the land. And each is tending her share to pass on to the next generation.


Small, solidly built, her silky hair anchored sensibly in a bun, Hilda Glisan shrugs at questions about the rigors and rewards of her life on the farm. She rocks back and forth, in one of the many rockers in her modest rancher home, allowing the conversation to ebb and flow, the clock ticking to fill the silence. "Miz" Glisan doesn't embroider talk. She doesn't romanticize her occupation

or the obligations her generation was born into.

She raised two children, Carlos and June, and ran a successful dairy operation while her husband, Harry, hauled milk for other farmers. The couple scrimped and saved and bought four more farms. When Harry Glisan died in 1959, their son Carlos took over the five farms. He and his wife, Rosalie, who was also raised on a farm, married in their 40s and had one child -- Heidi.

Glisan tenant farmers remember Carlos as hard-working, progressive, kindly -- the type of fellow "who never meets a stranger." Eleven years ago, he died suddenly from a blood clot. He was 54. His mother was 79.

"People said, 'What will happen now?' Because here we had three women and Heidi was just a small child," recalls June Glisan, who lives with her mother.

"And Mom said, 'Well, I ran 'em once, and I'll run 'em again.' She's always known the business."

"Um-hmm," Hilda agrees, rocking.

"She's always been outspoken. And very strong-willed," her daughter says.

Although she's moving a bit slower since a bad fall last year, Mrs. Glisan still writes all of the checks and oversees the operations of the farms. June Glisan, 58, takes care of the books after she returns from her job as a reading specialist for the Frederick County school system.

"There's no doubt that Hilda Glisan is running the show, that sh has been running it and that she will as long as the Lord lets her," says Bob Dinsmore, manager of Ceresville Motors, the farm equipment store that has done business with the Glisans for decades.

"One of the secrets to her success is that she gets some reall good people on her farms. She treats them right and they do a good job for her."

The elder Mrs. Glisan has struck a partnership with her farming families that some consider unusual. She provides her tenants with their housing, cows and farm equipment, free of charge. She also pays for equipment repairs and two-thirds of the cost of feeding the cows. In return, she gets two-thirds of the money from the sale of the milk while the tenants get one-third.

She offers young families what other farmers can't: a low-risk chance at virtually independent farming.

"Simply to get started in farming is tough," says 28-year-old tenant farmer Roland Sensenig. "If you were to take a total line of equipment, cows and farm, it would run you $600,000 to $1 million. Most people now are in their 50s before they begin to get their farms paid off."

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