New owners revive the ‘Egg and I’ farm

CHIMACUM — If you had asked Phil Vogelzang a year ago if he’d ever heard of Betty MacDonald, he’d have said no.

Ma and Pa Kettle?

Rings a faint bell, he would have answered.

So when Vogelzang, 49, saw a listing for a 20-acre farm for sale on Egg and I Road, he had no clue where the name came from.

“I thought, ‘That’s a funny name for a road,’” he said.

Vogelzang is now a lot more familiar with Betty MacDonald, having purchased, along with family members, the farm where the author of “The Egg and I” lived in the late 1920s.

The new owners have named their purchase the Egg and I Farm after the book, and in some ways, are following in the footsteps of its former owner.

March 26 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of MacDonald, author of “The Egg and I” and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books.

The daughter of a mining engineer, she was born Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard on March 26, 1908, in Boulder, Colo.

After graduating from Roosevelt High School in Seattle, she moved with her mother to Chimacum Valley on the Olympic Peninsula after her father died.

In 1927, she married Robert Heskett with whom she had two children. They divorced in 1935, and she married Donald C. MacDonald in 1942.

The couple moved to Vashon Island. Starting with “The Egg and I,” published in 1945, MacDonald wrote three other books based on her life, plus the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series for children.

She died of cancer in Seattle in 1958 at age of 49.

Flash forward 50 years to 2008 and the new owners of the homestead that inspired MacDonald to write “The Egg and I.”

“We’re rank beginners,” Vogelzang said of farming. “We have no experience.”

Located on a ridge between Beaver Valley and Center Road, the farm was a homestead with 40 acres when 19-year-old Betty Bard married Heskett.

Heskett’s dream to become the egg czar of Puget Sound crashed and burned along with the marriage, an experience his ex-wife turned to humorous account in a novel 20 years later.

The goal of the new owners — Vogelzang and his wife, Katy McCoy; her sister, Melinda McCoy; and Melinda’s husband, Peter Walchenbach — is less grandiose.

They want to grow as much of their own food as possible.

They’re thinking vegetable gardens, fruit trees, maybe even a cow.

And of course, chickens.

“Certainly eggs and chickens will be in the mix,” Vogelzang said.

The house that Betty lived in is long gone, but “Egg and I” fans continued to knock on the door of Jess and Pat Bondurant, the farm’s former owners who lived there 32 years.

The book is especially popular in Europe — Germany has the largest Betty MacDonald fan club in the world — and Pat Bondurant has had phone calls from Heidelberg, inviting her and her husband to fly over and help celebrate the author’s birthday.

Last fall, BBC Radio 4 sent a program staff member from England to Chimacum to tape interviews with Pat Bondurant and longtime Chimacum residents, Aldena Bishop and George Huntingford.

Members of the family who have purchased the farm will move there this summer, when Walchenbach, a special education teacher at Ocosta High School, finishes the school year.

He and Melinda McCoy will be moving with their daughter, Flora, 7, and son, Oscar, 5.

Vogelzang, a radiologist, and Katy McCoy, a physician-turned-artist, plan to come over from Seattle as much as possible, he said.

“Peter and I have been looking for property where we can farm on a small scale,” Vogelzang said.

“It’s sort of our dream.”

Vogelzang said he never considered that their “quiet little parcel in the country” would have a theme other than local, sustainable food production.

But since learning that the farm had a literary history, he has been learning more about Betty MacDonald, and thinking about ways to work with the heritage she left.

“Peter and Melinda are the kind of people who will embrace it, and welcome people,” he said.

Vogelzang was also surprised to find a connection between MacDonald and his wife’s family.

Both lived in Laurelhurst, a Seattle neighborhood where the McCoy family settled.

And on his side of the family, who are Dutch, he has some agricultural background — he comes from a long line of pig farmers, he said.

The son of a Dutch Christian Reform minister, he spent his high school years in Sheldon, Iowa, where he did menial labor on farms, mostly with livestock.

While Vogelzang has not seen “The Egg and I” movie yet, he has read the book with an eye to what kind of vegetables and fruits the family grew in the 1920s.

“If you read what they produced on the farm, it’s quite remarkable,” he said. “If they can do it, we can do it.”

Vogelzang said that, in the end, the farm is a legacy for his niece and nephew, who he hopes will get involved in 4-H, as well as take an active role in the farm’s operation.

In the meantime, he and the adults plan to enjoy the peace and quiet, the fresh food and the sense of accomplishment that comes from growing your own food.

In other words, they plan to find the peace and happiness that eluded Betty MacDonald when she came to the farm as a young wife with no idea of what she was getting into.

“We’ve thought it out,” Vogelzang said, “and we plan to be here a lot longer than Betty.”

The legacy of “The Egg and I” on east Jefferson County extends beyond the homestead in Chimacum into the Victorian storefronts of Port Townsend 12 miles north.

Gael McNealy recently moved her extensive “Egg and I” memorabilia collection into a new store on Polk Street in the 19th century downtown.

A local artist and antique dealer who has been collecting Betty MacDonald memorabilia for almost 20 years, McNealy has covered one wall with lobby cards and posters for the nine Ma and Pa Kettle movies that spun off Universal Pictures’ “The Egg and I” film in 1947.

The author’s most memorable characters, Ma and Pa Kettle, presaged “The Beverly Hillbillies” television series, and “The Egg and I” is considered the prototype for “Green Acres,” McNealy said.

She also has multiple sets of MacDonald’s books, including “The Plague and I,” about MacDonald’s experiences in a tuberculosis sanitarium.

“That’s what Betty gave the world,” McNealy said.

“She made us laugh.”

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