Farm Family Leaves Short Before Eviction Deadline
AMBOY, Ill. (AP) _ A farm family faced with an eviction deadline on Tuesday drove away from land they had worked for almost 40 years, but bank officials said the family was not broke and vowed to press them over debts estimated at $500,000.
″We might have to pitch a tent. The bank took all our money,″ Marguerite Leffelman, 57, said angrily. Mrs. Leffelman drives a school bus, and as she pulled out to make her morning rounds she could be heard singing, her voice breaking, ″Happy school days, happy school days.″
Mel Heckman, president of the First Bank of Princeton, had no sympathy for the Leffelmans.
″If you think these people are broke, you’re crazy,″ Heckman said. ″They’ve got money. They tried to offer us $375,000 to settle this thing.″
Leffelman, 59, loaded the last few belongings from a stripped- down ranch- style house into his pickup truck just before the 7 a.m. eviction deadline.
″I’ll be back,″ he said as he drove away from the land where the couple had raised livestock, grain and a family. About 200 friends and relatives joined Monday for a ceremonial last meal - a pot luck spread in a farm-machine shed, Mrs. Leffelman said.
″It was great to see how many friends were out there,″ she said of the dinner sponsored by the Farm Support Group of Sterling.
Taking possession of the 440-acre Leffelman spread was a major step toward settling debts, said Steve Kouri, an attorney representing the bank. But a dozen lawsuits remain unresolved and there is more property to be claimed.
In the meantime, the farm is under guard ″because we’ve had all kinds of hearsay threats that the place is going to be torched,″ Kouri said.
″Two or three grain bins are missing from the farm and they’re worth upwards of $30,000 apiece. There’s machinery missing that Leffelman valued at $75,000 that we intend to find.
″There’s a problem with another 240-acre tract of land that somebody is farming illegally,″ he said. ″If we catch them, they’re going to be arrested.″
Kouri contends the Leffelman’s youngest son, Terry, 27, lives on that tract.
″We’re not going to chase them down to the far corners of the earth ... but we’re not going to let them use our equipment on our land. They still owe us hundreds of thousands of dollars,″ Kouri said.
The Leffelmans surrendered their home quietly after several months of fighting the bank, a battle that included a two-month stint in jail for Leffelman and sparked angry protests by fellow farmers on the Bureau County courthouse steps.
Lee County Ciruit Judge Martin Hill had ordered the Leffelmans to leave their farm 100 miles west of Chicago on Tuesday or face trespassing charges. Edward Leffelman and his wife, Susan, also were ordered to vacate their home on the property.
The Leffelmans recently filed for protection under Chapter 12 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, a special section for financially troubled farmers. But the Bankruptcy Court in Rockford ruled they did not meet the requirements.