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Published: Friday, 2/9/2007

Offers pour in to help family rebuild farm


SANDUSKY - A family that lost as many as 50 calves in a fire at their dairy say they didn't realize how many people felt connected to the farm.

Neighbors have called to offer help and set up a fund to help the family rebuild. Amish builders have pledged to help construct a new barn.

"It's just touched us really deeply to know that so many people are reaching out," said Kim Hermes, whose husband, Tom, is one of three brothers who operate the dairy.

"We just don't know how we'd ever give back," she said.

A fire early Monday destroyed the family's milking parlor and much of their equipment. Tom Hermes estimated it could cost $1 million or more to build a new facility and replace the milking equipment.

Investigators say it may be difficult to determine what caused the fire.

"The sheer scope gives you problems," Perkins Township Fire Capt. Keith Wohlever said. "We're digging through 6 inches of ice to find things."

The farm that has been in the same family for about 150 years was where the Toft Dairy began in 1900. Toft's is now known for its ice cream sold in parts of Ohio.

Hundreds of school children have visited the farm over years.

"The farm has touched so many people," said Kim Hermes. "Even if they've been to the farm only once on a field trip, people are calling and saying 'I remember when.'•"

Dave Hermes said there are only about six dairy farms still operating in Erie County.

The calves killed ranged in age from newborn to three months. They were the next generation, said Tim Hermes.

"That was a future herd right there," he said.

Firefighters were able to save a herd of 100 dairy cows.

The family moved the herd to a farm about 10 miles away in Vickery.

The Hermes brothers rose early Tuesday to milk the cows, bringing feed and what equipment they had left.

"I'm sure everybody would like to see us back in business," Tom Hermes said. "I'd like to keep trying and continue. We'll see if we can afford it, I guess."

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