Archived Story

Stone in tractor pulling infield remembers Keith and Duane

Published 8:42am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This stone placed in the infield remembers Kirkdorfer Farms of Edwardsburg for years of service and contributions to Cass County tractor pulling. (Daily News/John Eby)
This stone placed in the infield remembers Kirkdorfer Farms of Edwardsburg for years of service and contributions to Cass County tractor pulling. (Daily News/John Eby)

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – Keith D. Kirkdorfer was 59 when he died suddenly at his North Shore Drive home in Edwardsburg on May 9, 2008.

An estimated 3,700 people attended his viewing at his shop where the Cass County Fair’s portable stage for in front of the grandstand was constructed.

The stage, which a tractor can pull like a trailer, was parked Tuesday in the same infield where a tractor pulling memorial to him and to his father, Duane, debuted this week at the 158th Cass County Fair.

Keith Kirkdorfer in October 2005 was named Volunteer of the Year by the Cass County Fair Association during its annual meeting.

He was recognized for many years of dedicated volunteer service to the Cass County Fair with special appreciation for his work in constructing the mobile stage in 2004.

“His idea was he wanted to build hydraulic wings on it to make it longer, but he died before it could happen,” remembered friend Tom Florea, who was cruising the grounds in a golf cart Tuesday afternoon.

A volunteer for 25 years, Florea has poured concrete from one end of the fairground to the other.

“I went to school with him,” said Florea, who lives on Cassopolis Road going toward Elkhart, Ind. “He was a year behind me in Edwardsburg. I probably knew him for 50 years. They lived on the north side of Eagle Lake. I worked with Duane for 40 years. They pulled tractors for years, then got out of it and took care of the track up here with their tractors and men from their farm.”

Keith was born May 28, 1948, in Three Rivers, the son of Duane P. and Gearl Dean (Trussell) Kirkdorfer.

On Dec. 14, 1996, in South Bend, Ind., he married the former Cynthia R. Miller, who survived.

Keith also left: two daughters, Michelle Jensen of Edwardsburg and Laura Cook of Mishawaka, Ind.; two stepchildren, Cameron (Karla) Mendenhall and Brooke (Scott) Krupp, all of Edwardsburg; seven grandchildren, Nathan Krupp, Cole Krupp, Drew Jones, Isaiah Cook, Micah Cook, Elijah Cook and Elaine Cook; a sister, Linda (Chuck) Starkweather of Temple, Texas; his parents, Duane P. and Gearl Dean Kirkdorfer of Edwardsburg; a nephew, C. T. (Julie) Starkweather of Conroe, Texas; an aunt, Judith (Earl) Gladbach of Kansas City, Mo.; his mother and father-in-law, Ted and Joyce Miller of Niles; a sister-in-law, Pam (Elgon) Ellis of Brimley and her children, Aaron Asmus, Aarick Asmus and Landon Asmus; and a brother-in-law, Joe (Lily) Miller of Arlington, Texas, and his three children.

Keith owned and operated Kirkdorfer Farms, Edwardsburg. He started farming at the age of 7. He had worked at Miles Laboratories in Elkhart, Ind., and for White Farm Equipment from 1972-1983.

He was a member of Michigan Bio-Diesel in Bangor and was on the board of managers with Liberty Renewable Fuels in Ithaca.

He served on the Jefferson Township Board for four years, the Jefferson Township Planning Commission for seven years, the Edwardsburg Fire Department board for four years and was a former member of the fire department.

Kirkdorfer was treasurer with the Cass County Tractor Pullers Association and he built a track for the tractor pulls for the Cass County Fair.

He and his workers also built the stage at the fairground and was on the sponsorship committee for the fair.

He was a candidate for Cass County commissioner in 2002.

He served on the HOC Farmland Preservation Committee, was a member of the Cass County Farm Bureau board and was a lifetime member of 4-H and the 5-H Horse Clubs.
He was the top soy bean producer in Michigan in 2006 and 2007 and in 2007 was the largest seed corn grower for Pioneer Seeds at its Plymouth, Ind., plant.

He was instrumental in helping to pass the Cass County Farmland Preservation ordinance in 2007. He was also a member of the 110 bushel soy bean club and 300 bushel corn club.

His father, Duane Paul Kirkdorfer, 85, passed away April 8, 2009.
He was born May 7, 1923, in Calvin Township to Minard and Isa Marie (Harper) Kirkdorfer.

His mother was a Probate Registrar with Judge U.S. Eby in Cass County.
On March 31, 1945, in Niles, Duane married the former Gearl Dean (Jerry) Trussell.
Duane worked for 33 years at Miles Laboratories (now Bayer).

He retired in 1985, but had been a dedicated farmer all his life.

He was a member of the Quarter Century Club. He loved to restore antique tractors and he was a member of the St. Joe Valley Old Engine Association, the International Cockshutt Club and the Allis Chalmers Club.

A marker adjacent to the stone says Florea and the Kirkdorfer family thank everyone who helped and contributed to the marker for Keith and Duane Kirkdorfer: Jeromy Bogue, engraving; George Brossman, stone; Trent Wallace, who set the stone from Calvin Township with a Bobcat; Steve Jones, red brick pavers salvaged from Niles Avenue in Niles more than 40 years ago; Dave Kwast, set fencing; Edwardsburg American Legion Post 365, American flag; Doug Martin, vinyl fences; Tony Wallace, donated use of Bobcat, helper; Brent Florea, helper; Tom Florea, organizer, helper, donation; Kenny Bishop Jr., donation; Pat LaPorte, donation; Mike Gordon, donation; and David Reed, donation.

Donations are being accepted at the Cass County Fair office or to Tom Florea for purchase of a flagpole for this site. This year Florea loaned a flagpole.

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