December 18, 2009

Deep roots: Bohman Christmas Tree Farm creates holiday memories for many families

Mike Bohman stands next to a tree on his Christmas tree farm that he has run for 41 years adjacent to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Enochsburg. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Mike Bohman stands next to a tree on his Christmas tree farm that he has run for 41 years adjacent to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Enochsburg. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ENOCHSBURG—Family, tradition and faith make Advent and Christmas a cherished time of year for people around the world.

But in the hills of southeastern Indiana, the Bohman family works hard year-round to help make this holy season a reality for scores of other families in the region.

Mike Bohman, 68, is the owner of Bohman Christmas Tree Farm, which has supplied live Christmas trees for countless families for 33 years.

Working with him on the farm are his wife, Sondra; his daughter, Penny Eldridge; his son, Doug Bohman; and several of his eight grandchildren.

The Bohmans work hard to create Christmas memories for other families because, like the trees they sell, they are deeply rooted in the land that their ancestor, Gerhard Bohman, bought when he came to Indiana from Germany more than 170 years ago.

They do it because they are deeply rooted in their Christian faith. St. John the Evangelist Church, which stands across the road from the farm, sits on land donated by Gerhard Bohman.

“The roots are very deep,” said Mike Bohman, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish. “Years ago, they pastured some of this land. And they harvested crops off of some of it. But I couldn’t farm this today and make a living.”


As a young man in his late 20s, that was the prospect that Mike faced 41 years ago when considering what he was going to do with land that had been in the family for five generations.

After working for another nearby Christmas tree farmer, Bohman decided to start a tree farm of his own.

An ordinary farmer plants a crop and works with it patiently over several months until it is harvested.

Bohman had to wait eight years before he saw a return on his investment of time, sweat and money. Some of the Christmas trees he plants now aren’t harvested for 12 to 14 years.

Doug Bohman, 38, who grew up on the farm, knows well what that kind of patience is all about.

“The first year, you put the tree in the ground and you don’t see a lot of results,” he said. “You don’t really see it start growing a bunch until halfway through its life. Then it really shoots up. Then it really starts developing into a Christmas tree.”

Doug and his father see that happen to lots of trees. There are upwards of 70,000 trees on their farm at present. Since a sizable minority of the trees won’t survive to be harvested, three are planted for every one that is cut down.

Mike knows that some of the trees that he is planting now won’t be harvested until he is 80. But he doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon.

“I hope to be here to harvest them,” he said. “If I was going to quit, I wouldn’t be planting trees anymore.”

Mike did a lot of the planting and sheering of the trees as a part-time job. He worked full time at Hillenbrand Industries in Batesville until he was 61.

“I’d come out here in the evenings,” he said. “I’d get out of the hustle and bustle of the office. It’s peaceful riding around on a tractor. You wound down out here.”

Helping families

For the Bohmans, all the hard work and patience pays off when they get to see families visit the farm to cut down their own Christmas trees starting the weekend after Thanksgiving.

“Over the past 30 years, you see people year after year after year returning,” Doug said. “It makes you feel good that they want to come back to the farm. It makes the work throughout the whole year worth it.”

Dave Stirn, 51, of Batesville has brought his family to the Bohman Christmas Tree Farm for more than 20 years. Now that his children are grown and starting families of their own, he enjoys cutting down Christmas trees with his grandchildren.

“It’s great,” Stirn said. “It’s just lovely to see them enjoying it just like we did when we’re [younger].

“It’s nice to see everybody together, doing this as a family and enjoying it. My son will be home on Dec. 27. He lives out in Montana.”

Mike gained an appreciation for what he does to bring families together from Father Ambrose Schneider, who served as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish for 34 years, and died in 1991.

“One day, he said, ‘Michael, you know what you’re doing?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. What, Father?’ ” Mike said. “And he said, ‘You’re making many a happy family. I sit here in the priest’s house, and I see these cars come up this road and turn. There are kids in it, and a tree hanging on top. They’re all smiling from ear to ear. You’re making a lot of families happy, and bringing them together.’

“It kind of puts chills up your back. It’s a happy time of the year,” Mike said.

Helping families come together during the Christmas season is especially important to Mike’s daughter, Penny Eldridge, 39.

A member of St. John the Evangelist Parish, her first husband, Andrew Smith, died of cancer two years after they were married. Three years ago, she married Matt Eldridge, whose first wife also died of cancer.

“It’s fun watching different [families] come out here,” Penny said. “They have their babies, and then they get older and you see the different generations growing older.”

One of those babies that she has seen grow older on the farm is her daughter Abbi, 8, who sells hot dogs to visitors to the farm.

“It’s kind of fun when you have a lot of customers,” Abbi said.

In early December, she and her family go out on the farm and pick out their own tree.

“It’s hard to pick which one because you see everyone get the good ones,” Abbi said with a laugh.

“In our house, it’s Christmas year-round,” Mike said. “The word ‘Christmas’ doesn’t come up just in November and December. It’s Christmas in July here. It’s Christmas in April.”

Rooted in faith

St. John the Evangelist Church can be seen from just about every point on the Bohman Christmas Tree Farm.

One of Gerhard Bohman’s sons died in the construction of the church in the

mid-1850s. And the parish cemetery, where many Bohmans are buried, is a stone’s throw away from where their customers purchase Christmas trees.

Bells in the clock of the church steeple ring out clearly on the half hour and hour at this time of year as families walk up and down the farm’s hills looking for the perfect tree.

“I look at the church a lot to see what time of the day it is,” Mike said. “And Mom and Dad are right here [in the cemetery next to the farm]. It’s part of the farm. It’s part of the operation.”

Penny moved back to Enochsburg a few years ago after living in Brownsburg. She and her family built a house at the back end of the farm with a perfect view of the church.

“It’s so neat every morning to wake up and be able to look outside and see the church,” Penny said. “It’s like God’s watching over us.”

(To learn more about the Bohman Christmas Tree Farm, log on to

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