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Published: Monday, 1/5/2009

Soil-conserving farmer tapped mechanical skill

WOODVILLE - Kenneth William Zunk, who designed and patented a soil-conserving plow and was honored for his soil-conservation practices as a farmer in Ottawa County, died Saturday in his Woodville home at age 90.

After returning from Army service during World War II, Mr. Zunk opened Ken's Garage in the Ottawa County hamlet of Martin, and in time he added a Ferguson tractor dealership to his business.

After the Massey-Ferguson merger cost him the dealership, daughter Bonnie Cipriani said, Mr. Zunk began building machines in his shop and renamed it Martin Manufacturing Co.

In 1954, he obtained a patent for the Cut-A-Mulcher, a field machine that, rather than turning over the earth in large chunks like a plow, mulched it in place so richer soil just below the surface remained there, rather than being deposited on top where it was vulnerable to wind and rain erosion, said Marian Wilson, Mr. Zunk's other daughter.

But the idea didn't catch on with the tractor manufacturers that Mr. Zunk tried to interest in producing it, and attempts to market the Cut-A-Mulcher through a friend who demonstrated it at Ohio State fairs generated few sales.

"The market wasn't ready for my idea in 1954," Mr. Zunk would tell Production Credit Association Farming, a small trade journal, 20 years later. "We still use it in our operations, and some area farmers who have seen it have asked to buy it."

Over time, Mr. Zunk and his wife, Betty Marie, whom he had married in 1941, devoted more of their energy to farming rather than manufacturing, and in 1967 they moved from Martin to a farm tract outside Woodville, where by 1969 they were growing vegetables and grain crops on more than 300 acres.

In 1971, Mr. Zunk was chosen as Ottawa County Farmer of the Year because of his soil-conservation techniques.

Mr. Zunk had demonstrated mechanical inclination at a young age, Mrs. Wilson said.

"As a child, he loved taking things apart to see how they worked," she said, a tendency that naturally translated into his assignment as a mechanic during his wartime service in England and France.

Even after he stopped building farm equipment, Mrs. Wilson said, Mr. Zunk continued to maintain all of the machines for his farming operations, which he and Mrs. Zunk continued well into their 80s.

That bit of frugality helped their finances during hard times, the daughter said, "because he didn't need to take his equipment to someone else and pay them to fix it."

During what free time the couple had, the Zunks enjoyed boating and fishing on Lake Erie and traveling, making several national parks-oriented trips and visiting every U.S. state except Alaska. Mrs. Zunk went everywhere her husband went, including on fishing boats where "she got more fish than Dad did," Mrs. Wilson said.

Mrs. Zunk's death last July was very hard on her husband, the daughter added.

Mr. Zunk's survivors include his daughters, Marian L. Wilson and Bonnie L. Cipriani; sister, Violet M. Schwellinger; three grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson. Along with his wife, he was preceded in death by a brother and a son.

The body will be in the Robinson-Walker Funeral Home, Genoa, after 5 p.m. tomorrow, with funeral services to begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the mortuary.

The family suggests tributes to the Allen-Clay Joint Fire District Station No. 3, Genoa.



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