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Of like mind

Twin farmers lived a quiet life and left a legacy to the Swan Valley

Alexander Cherban (l), also known as ‘Sandy,’ and his twin brother Marvin are pictured in their younger years in this undated photo. The two men farmed together near Birch River.

They were often seen driving the backroads of the Swan Valley, stopping by to visit farm neighbours or in town for business. But they were never out at social events.

Alexander Cherban, known as ‘Sandy’ and his brother Marvin were a pair of “quiet guys,” say those who knew them.

They were also twins, born April 8, 1937 in Winnipegosis, moving to Birch River in 1970 after they bought a small grain farm here.

Alexander died in 2013, at home on the 480-acre farm he’d shared with Marvin all those years. Marvin predeceased him in 2012. Their land, farm equipment and home was put on the auction block in the spring of 2013.

Why it matters: This private legacy will aid economic development for years to come in the Swan Valley.

It’s where $900,000 in proceeds from that sale will now go that’s astounded residents of the Swan Valley in recent days.

In a very simply worded will, found in a bottom drawer in the Cherbans’ home afterward, the two gentlemen stated that they wanted to donate all the proceeds from the sale of their farm to Manitoba Agriculture.

Last week Minister of Agriculture Ralph Eichler attended a gala of the Community Foundation of Swan Valley (CFSV) to announce two special programs now created with the funds.

The Alexander Cherban Agriculture Industry Development Program has been established by the province of Manitoba with $450,000 of the funds that went directly to the provincial government.

The other $450,000 has been put towards creating the Cherban Endowment Fund within the CFSV.

It is rare that a donation of this size is given directly to the province, a provincial spokesman said.

“We are deeply touched by Mr. Cherban’s unwavering support for the agriculture industry in his community and across Manitoba,” said Minister Eichler, in a November 13 press release disclosing some of the details of the two programs.

A surprising phone call

Birch River farmer Herb Bohnhardt helped hammer out those details.

Neighbours and friends of the Cherban brothers, the couple was on a winter vacation when Herb took a call back in 2013, to be told Alexander had died — and that he had been named executor of their will.

That was his first surprise, said Bohnhardt. There would be more to follow.

The will itself, he was to discover, was as humble as these men’s lives.

“It was very brief,” he said. “It was just two or three lines and it said I was executor for both of them. I was to dispose of their property and the proceeds were supposed to go to the Department of Manitoba Agriculture. ”

As his duties ensued, and he talked with other neighbours, Bohnhardt said he became convinced that what the two men would specifically have wanted was that their money, as much as possible, go to the benefit of the region, not simply flow into government coffers.

“Knowing the brothers’ love for our Swan Valley, I knew Sandy and Marvin would want their money to be used for the betterment of the valley,” he said.

And so began what would be three years of discussions back and forth with provincial authorities to find a way to honour the men’s wishes, at the same time directing funds into the Swan Valley.

Farm mentors

Bohnhardt and his father Herb Bohnhardt Sr. knew the introverted Sandy and Marvin as well as anyone did. They, along with another farm neighbour, Jack Thompson, actually mentored the Cherbans after they bought their small farm.

That’s where some of the other surprising aspects of these men’s lives would surface, says Bohnhardt. At age 33, when they acquired their small farm, they were starting from scratch. They had no farm background whatsoever, said Bohnhardt.

“They knew very little to nothing about it,” he said. “They’d never even worked on a farm. They were from Winnipegosis and had worked in the fishing industry.”

Determined to become farmers, however, it was from a long stint working in the Port of Churchill and saving their wages that they put together enough to buy their farm.

That’s another remarkable aspect of these men’s story, said Bohnhardt. As their executor, he saw the deed and they paid cash for that farm, he said.

“As near as I can figure it came out of their bank account. It was a cash deal,” he said. “That was quite a feat for those days.”

Better prices

With Thompson’s and the Bohnhardts’ help and mentoring, the Cherbans would become experienced farmers, sowing and harvesting crops along with everyone else.

But what also became known is that the pair didn’t always sell their harvests right away either, said their neighbour. Their needs were few and their lifestyle modest. They didn’t need to sell a crop right away.

“They’d keep it for a better price,” he recalls. “Most farmers had to turn their crop over the very first year they’d harvest, but they were able to keep their grain and sell it when the price was right or when they wanted to.”

Scholarships

On Grad Night 2019 a young man or woman graduating from the Swan Valley Regional Secondary School (SVRSS) and intending to study agriculture or agribusiness post-secondary will receive the first $1,500 scholarship to flow from the Cherban Endowment Fund.

Another scholarship of the same amount will also be awarded next year — to another young man or woman already done high school at SVRSS and enrolled in a similar field of study.

The CFSV has set aside $75,000 to provide the two annual scholarships. The rest of their half of the Cherban donation will be invested to provide grants to groups, organizations and projects broadly related to both agriculture and community economic development and rural life in the Swan Valley.

The Cherbans’ gift has now expanded the total value of their foundation to almost $2.9 million, said the organization’s executive director Donna Martin.

In a release from the CFSV, chair Lorne Henkelman said at a current spending rate of four per cent, these new funds will eventually generate $18,000 each and every year for grants and scholarships. A spokesman for the provincial government says more details will be announced shortly how the Alexander Cherban Industry Development Program will be utilized.

A few bucks

Undoubtedly, on their drives around the countryside, Sandy and Marvin would have seen and remarked on where a few bucks could do some good, on both agricultural and economic development fronts in the scenic but sparsely populated Swan Valley.

Bohnhardt says he is satisfied the two brothers’ wishes have been honoured. If they could know how their hard-earned money will now be used, they’d be happy about it, he said.

He’s also sure both men would have steered clear of the limelight and avoided all the fanfare surrounding this.

“They were very quiet guys and didn’t want publicity,” he said. “But I’m sure they would be quite pleased to be remembered this way.”

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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