Armed with a master’s degree in journalism from U-M in 1970, Bernadette Hondl Thomasy embarked on a long, successful career telling other people’s stories. Upon retirement she has crafted her own experiences into a memoir as one of three daughters growing up on a farm near Owatonna, Minn., in the late 1940s-‘60s. The book Under Minnesota Skies is a lively telling of stories from several generations that captures the sweat, tears, laughs, and daily challenges of a family making a living from the land.
Thomasy’s coauthor is her sister Colleen Hondl Gengler whose fascination with history uncovered details of the family’s Czech/German ancestors who purchased the land where the Hondl sisters grew up. The authors seek to preserve details of the family-farm lifestyle while gaining understanding of how working the land and their cultural heritage shaped them into the people they are today. They explore the vital role their parents played in raising independent daughters in an era dominated by gender bias.
The book’s fast-paced narrative, along with 60 photos, depicts the farm’s evolution from relying on horses to using tractor power and new labor-saving machinery. With no boys in the family, the daughters learn life lessons while loading hay and straw bales, feeding cattle and pigs, and pulling weeds. Gengler’s observations on a 2014 visit to the Czech homeland provide further insight into the traditions forgotten and upheld which connect the Hondl family to the Czech community in the Owatonna area — heritage they were unaware of while growing up.
Thomasy was an award-winning staff writer at The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), from 1970-79. After continuing for 25 years in communications/public relations in the Toledo area, she retired with her husband to Sacramento, Calif. Coauthor Gengler of Iona, Minn., enjoyed a 38-year career as an educator with University of Minnesota Extension.