Sunday, February 22, 2009

Giant Vegetable Man

Howard Trivelpiece (97), grower of giant vegetables

My family is descended from an old Pennsylvania Dutch family on my mother's side, the Drebelbis (dry-bell-BIS) family. There is big fat book that traces our roots to the 1732 arrival of John Jacob Drebelbis as a colonial settler from the German Palatine region. There is a reunion on an ancient family farm every summer. There is an old photo of my mother as a little girl at the 200th anniversary in 1932, and she appears again, with my kids an I, in the 275th anniversary photo.

Anyway, my mom has always been on the lookout for the Drebelibis name in the news. The name has been spelled many ways as people moved to other parts of the country. Many years ago, my mom spotted a man named Howard Trivelpiece in a magazine article about gardening. My mom wrote to him in California, to tell him about the Drebelibis Cousins of America reunions, should he wish to attend.

Howard has never come East for a reunion, but my mom has been exchanging letters and holiday cards with him ever since. At 97, he is still raising giant vegetables in his northern California backyard. He has a radish, a beet, and a 3.25-pound head of garlic in the Guinness Book of World Records. This past year, the Siskiyou Golden Fair gave him an award for 80 (!) years of competing at the fair, and they named a building for him: the Howard Trivelpiece Ag-Hort Building. He first entered rabbits, in 1928, as a 4-H member. In his best year at the fair, he won 67 ribbons!

His wife Velva is 94. Isn't her name cool? Velva. You don't often hear of a couple where both live into their 90s. They must eat their vegetables.

Howard raises a lot of vegetables and gives them away - except for the best of the crop, which he saves to enter in the fair. Every year, he says he has to save his best veg for what might be his last fair. He credits his success to careful soil building, using lots of rabbit manure, although he is also a Miracle-Gro fan.

I think it's fun that my mom has been writing to him all these years. I'm going to send him a card and a photo of Mom in the garden this summer. I want to know if Velva was a canner. Maybe he'll want to swap seeds!


Anonymous said...

That's a great story about him - wow, and especially how much he's done. 67 ribbons! Very neat that you are going to continue staying in touch.

Shiloh Prairie Farm said...

Howard sounds like a very interesting person in deed! That is a lot of garlic, I need gardening tips from him!

fullfreezer said...

What a great story. What fun to see if he would be interested in swapping seeds! I love some of the old Pennsylvania German names. I remember helping my MIL do research into the family history. We used to love to go cemetery walking to look at the old tombstones. Some people get weirded out by that but I always found it peaceful.

9 Knowlton Kids said...

I love this story about him! Is he still living now? (2011) He was my dad's boss when we lived in Yreka in 1965. This past year my husband and I were remodeling our home near Eugene, OR and went to re-use building supply store. I bought a box of tiles for our bathroom and when I got home I noticed on the box that they had originally been shipped to Howard in Yreka! You should've seen my jaw drop! I'd love to write to him if he is still living. ~Becki

Matriarchy said...

Becki, I will look up his address for you. I think I will send a card, too. My mother had exchanged letters with him for many years, but now has dementia and cannot write. I am not sure if Howard stopped writing because she did, or if he is also in poor health.

Hiltkid said...

Howard is a wonderful fellow. He drove school bus from Hilt California to Yreka taking us high school kids in every day, rain, snow or shine.

It was 22 miles from Yreka to Hilt. Each day, he would drive his car up to Hilt, pick up the bis and deliver us to Yreka. The would then reverse the trip in the evening. 1931 to 1973!