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Farmer's wife planted the future

By Diane Wagner

In her later years, Margrit Broder was a familiar face at the casinos of Biloxi, Miss., and Cherokee, N.C.

The Stockbridge octogenarian went several times a year, on organized bus trips with the Henry County senior centers or with old friends like Mary Lynberg. She was also an avid bingo player at Saint Philip Benizi Catholic Church in Jonesboro, where she and her husband, Hans, were founding members.

"When she came home, if she won, she would start tooting her horn as she drove around the lake (to the house)," Lynberg recalled with a laugh.

The outings were just the icing on the cake, though, for the hard-working Swiss immigrant who came to the county with her husband over 50 years ago, to run a dairy farm off Flippen Road.

The couple had only meant to stay a year or so. But they wound up buying the farm, and becoming an integral part of the generation that transformed this local community from a sleepy rural backwoods to a blossoming metropolitan suburb.

Margrit Broder died May 15 of pancreatic cancer, but she left behind contributions?to the Henry County Farm Bureau, the area's first Catholic church, the Stockbridge Garden Club and local charities?and a close-knit family of eight children, 20 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren to carry on her legacy.

"My father often said that we should take some of the blame for Henry County's population explosion," said her son Hans Broder Jr., retired president of The First State Bank of Stockbridge and a director of the Henry Council for Quality Growth.

When the Broders and their three oldest children settled in Henry County in 1951, they joined what the U.S. Census Bureau said were 15,857 other residents. Clayton County, a bit closer to the big city of Atlanta, already had 22,872 people. Today, the two counties combined are home to nearly 400,000 residents.

"We had a lot of farms," said Regina Whittaker, whose husband Robert is the secretary of the Henry County Farm Bureau. "Since I-75 came through, we grow houses and cement."

Whittaker said the Broders were active members of the Bureau, and both families' children grew up participating in 4-H Club activities.

"Mrs. Broder was always right there," Whittaker said. "The Farm Bureau women are supposed to be at the elbows of our husbands, and that's what we did."

Whittaker said she has fond memories of Margrit Broder's specialty, the apple strudel she brought to family night dinners and to the bake-off contests that "she usually won." Lynberg, too, praised Broder's skill in the kitchen.

"Margrit was always cooking for others," Lynberg said. "Her German potato salad and her apple strudel. Any church function, you'd get there early to get the apple strudel."

Lynberg, whose daughter Lyndy eventually married Hans Broder Jr., met Margrit Broder in 1965, when the fledgling Saint Philip's was a mission church holding Mass in the Hutcheson brothers' drug store across from the train depot in Jonesboro. A bank now stands on the spot.

"It was a very pathetic little building," Lynberg said. "We brought in 100 folding chairs and filled it all up. I don't know where all these Catholics came from. Margrit was driving through Jonesboro and saw it. She had been going to Griffin or the monastery (in Conyers) and was so happy to find a place close to home."

Since those first 35 local families came together, Saint Philip's was established as a full-fledged church in 1967 and has grown to 1,700 families with a 23-acre facility on Flint River Road.

The transition was helped along, Lynberg said, by Margrit Broder's cooking, the booties, blankets and doll clothes she crocheted for fundraisers, and the sense of community fostered by special events on the farm.

"She was very involved in the church, and they were always so welcoming," Lynberg said. "Their life, like ours, was based around the church. And the dairy farm. I remember the priest said to me ?Massachusetts has its Kennedy compound and Stockbridge has its Broder compound.'"

Until the 1980s, the dairy farm was a sprawling operation, with two houses for the workers next to the family homestead on the lake. Hans Broder ran the farm, Margrit Broder took care of the domestic side of life.

"She was a phenomenal woman," Broder's granddaughter, Mia Broder, said. "She ran three households and raised her own chickens, hogs and eggs for money to buy things for the kids and house. They always had First August (Swiss Independence Day) and Mardi Gras parties and church picnics. And anyone who came from Switzerland, and came to Atlanta, came to the Broder farm."

The Broder dairy farm has gradually given way to new development like the Rum Creek Golf Course. Family members now live in all three of the houses around the lake, and they've formed a real estate business focusing on the hundreds of empty acreage that remains.

But Hans Broder Sr., a former Swiss Army artillery officer and agricultural engineering teacher, continues to raise about 50 beef cows and a big crop of hay each year.

"He's still out there on the tractor every day," Mia Broder said.