2017-06-15 / Life in Leelanau

Noonans Own Top Barn

At 107, she’s still going strong
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff


MEMBERS OF the Noonan family are shown at their 2017 Barn of the Year sign. From left are “Little Dave” and Bailey Noonan, and Sandy and “Big Dave” Noonan. Riding the model John Deere Gator are Ella and Eli Noonan. MEMBERS OF the Noonan family are shown at their 2017 Barn of the Year sign. From left are “Little Dave” and Bailey Noonan, and Sandy and “Big Dave” Noonan. Riding the model John Deere Gator are Ella and Eli Noonan. David Noonan took his first job seriously, running two miles to work every day after school.

It’s a job he’s never left.

Now his work place, built in 1910 in Kasson Township, has earned the accolades of Michigan “Barn of the Year.”

“After I got off the bus, I’d run down here to do the chores,” says Noonan, who with his wife, Sandy, lived on the farm from 1979 until in recent years building a home on Armstrong Lake. “I couldn’t wait to get here. Now I still come here every day to do chores.”

The barn has been in the Noonan family since purchased by Glen and Ella Noonan in 1969. Dave Noonan, 14-years-old at the time, was assigned chore duties. The Glen Noonan family was living on a farm two miles away.


SANDY NOONAN reacts to a steer’s nudge while hugging David. SANDY NOONAN reacts to a steer’s nudge while hugging David. Now “Little Dave” Noonan, 32, and his wife, Bailey, live on and work the cattle farm.

“I’ve always been called ‘Big Dave’ and he’s been ‘Little Dave’,” explains Noonan.

“He has always been in the barn with me,” adds Big Dave, looking at his son. “He’s my right-hand man.”

The family had gathered around a picnic table in the backyard of the farm with rows of ankle-high corn stretching in all directions.

“Forever” is the length of time the younger Dave Noonan says he has known he’d be a farmer. “I like being able to plant something, watch it grow, and then harvest it. And being outdoors.”


HEREFORD STEERS — and their products — occupy the barn and barnyard at the Noonan farm. HEREFORD STEERS — and their products — occupy the barn and barnyard at the Noonan farm. Another generation of Noonans, Ella, 4, and Eli, 2, are a few years from being fully entrusted to chores, but they are setting their roots down in farm life. The siblings can be found nearly every day helping on the farm with miniature shovels and wheelbarrows, or driving around the barn in a model John Deere Gator.

“Eli knows all the names of the equipment,” says his father.

Says Bailey Noonan, “It’s a different lifestyle, but I love it. Sometimes the chores are all day. You run your schedule around the farm.”

Adds matriarch Sandy, “There is nothing better than raising a family on the farm.”

The Noonans own and farm 160 acres, and lease another 400 acres to grow corn and hay for feed. “Big Dave” and Sandy Noonan still hold the deed to the farm, but its operation has been assumed by “Little Dave” and Bailey Noonan with the intent that it be passed on to future generations of the family.


THE NOONANS supplement their farm income by selling bagged corn to hunters, maple syrup and cord wood cut on the property. THE NOONANS supplement their farm income by selling bagged corn to hunters, maple syrup and cord wood cut on the property. At the heart of their farm operation are 200 Hereford cattle that the Noonans purchase when each weighs about 750 pounds. When they are ready for market — at about 1,500 pounds — the Noonans sell them off and start over.

It’s about market time, and the senior Noonan expects to make a profit.

“Right now the price of beef is $1.10 (per pound) on the hoof,” he said. “It’s good right now. It all depends how much you pay for the feed. We’ll do all right.”

Even on good years, though, farm income is not enough to sustain a family. Sandy Noonan is retiring this week after delivering mail out of the Maple City post office for 31 years. Dave was Kasson Township assessor for 25 years before retiring.


DAVID NOONAN on his way to hauling more wheelbarrows of feed to the 200 head of cattle raised on the farm. DAVID NOONAN on his way to hauling more wheelbarrows of feed to the 200 head of cattle raised on the farm. The Noonans annually cut, split and sell about 200 cords of wood, most of it taken from their property.

Their “home-made” maple syrup is truly that, and a favorite at local restaurants such as Pegtown Station in Maple City. A restaurant in Traverse City sells 10 gallons of Noonan-produced syrup every three weeks.

Hunters call ahead to reserve and pick up bagged field corn, deer feed grown on the Noonan farm.

All that helps, but “Little Dave” relates that land prices preclude most young people from becoming farmers. He’s thankful for the opportunity given him.

“I would say that the only way you could get into farming today is to be born into it. Especially in Leelanau County everybody wants to live here. Land values are outrageous, so you couldn’t buy a piece of land,” he says.

And “Big Dave,” who figures that through the years he’s filled and moved by hand about 700,000 wheelbarrows of feed corn from silo to barn, appreciates being in a position to hand over a family tradition.

“He (Little Dave) treats it like it’s his. I come here every day and he tells me what to do. It’s his farm. He treats it like it’s his.”

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