Friends, family mourn loss of Palatine Township farming mainstay

  • Harold Bergman, 99, says he's adjusting to the idea of retiring from farming as he prepares for the sale of his equipment and personal items, making way for the farm to become a Hoffman Estates housing development.

      Harold Bergman, 99, says he's adjusting to the idea of retiring from farming as he prepares for the sale of his equipment and personal items, making way for the farm to become a Hoffman Estates housing development. Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer April 2015

  • Harold Bergman, 94, operates the tractor to harvest the hay crop on his property during a hot summer day as a worker scoops up the bales and stacks them on the wagon. The family lived came to Palatine Township to live in 1852 and Bergman farmed the land from 1943 to 2015.

      Harold Bergman, 94, operates the tractor to harvest the hay crop on his property during a hot summer day as a worker scoops up the bales and stacks them on the wagon. The family lived came to Palatine Township to live in 1852 and Bergman farmed the land from 1943 to 2015. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer September 2010

  • Harold Bergman, 97 and the oldest farmer in Cook County, stands in front of the home in which he was born after the Hoffman Estates Village Board proclaimed Harold G. Bergman Day.

      Harold Bergman, 97 and the oldest farmer in Cook County, stands in front of the home in which he was born after the Hoffman Estates Village Board proclaimed Harold G. Bergman Day. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer June 2013

 
 
Updated 12/16/2017 12:23 PM

Many farmers moved as suburbia closed in but Harold Bergman stayed, leading a simple life on the land where he was born June 1, 1916.

He grew hay well into his 90s at the family homestead at Algonquin and Ela roads in Palatine Township and for several years was considered the oldest farm operator in Cook County.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But a true piece of area history has gone. On Saturday, friends, family and well wishers bid farewell to the 101-year-old mainstay and he was laid to rest at Mount Hope Cemetery, which was started by his grandfather.

"His family has played an important part in the development of Palatine Township and in Hoffman Estates," Mayor Bill McLeod said on June 1, 2013, which was dedicated Harold Bergman Day. "We felt it was appropriate."

Bergman also received official recognition of his achievements from both the Illinois Comptroller's office and the Cook County Farm Bureau.

The family had deep roots in the area dating to 1852 and were among the early settlers who supported what is now the St. John United Church of Christ. His father was on the school board that oversaw the construction of Palatine High School, from which Bergman graduated in 1933.

He continued his education, graduating from the University of Illinois in 1939 and was teaching agriculture and science courses in southern Indiana until his father fell ill. Bergman returned in 1943 and never left.

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They may not have known it but generations of suburban residents have driven past the Bergman homestead, originally a 200-acre dairy farm. Most of the land was taken by eminent domain in the mid-1960s by the Cook County Forest Preserve District to develop the Ned Brown Forest Preserve. The family grew wheat, oats, hay, barley, corn and soybeans north of Algonquin Road on the remaining 38 acres.

In interviews over the years, Bergman came across as humble and hardworking, rarely taking a day off and enjoying what became his life's work.

He was dedicated to his family and church, according to his obituary, and said his service to the Lord brought a great sense of purpose and deep meaning.

He was born in the farm house built by his grandfather on Algonquin Road just west of Ela Road and what is now Harper College.

A resourceful Bergman began growing hay exclusively, which was in demand from trainers at Arlington Park racetrack and area horse owners. He kept at it until he was 99 and for much of that stretch, not only operated the tractors but helped lift and store the bales.

In 2015, five generations of farm equipment and personal belongings were sold at auction.

"That's life. You've got to adjust to what the next day brings," Bergman said at the time.

Last year, construction began on 81-home subdivision approved for the former farm.

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