Gerald P. Helmich, who took over the family farm at age 16 and turned it into one of Niagara County's largest agricultural ventures, died Monday in Mount St. Mary's Hospital, Lewiston, after a long illness. He was 67.
Born in Niagara Falls, he was a 1956 graduate of Lewiston-Porter High School. Although he had planned to join the Navy that year, the death of his father, Paul, led to his taking over the family's 68-acre farm.
When he retired last year, he was working more than 2,000 acres, including about 45 acres in Bond Lake Park he lost in an eminent-domain battle with Niagara County. He was allowed continued use of the land as an orchard.
His farmland was operated from the homestead on Old Ransomville Road and consisted mostly of apples and cabbage. He owned almost 1,000 acres and leased other spreads of land, mostly along Ransomville, Old Ransomville, Dickerson and Swan roads, said his youngest son, Leigh, 28, a diesel mechanic at Techmotiv in Niagara Falls.
Mr. Helmich and his good friend, Peter Baker, owned most of the cabbage patches in and around Ransomville during the last half-century, Leigh Helmich said.
The Helmich children all decided on jobs other than farming in recent years. Paul, the oldest, is a graphics designer; Brett is an accountant for a pharmaceutical company in New York City.
Leigh Helmich said he toyed with the idea of continuing the family farm, but that ended as his father's health deteriorated.
"If he wasn't going to be around," he said of his father, "my heart wasn't in it."
Mr. Helmich and his wife, the former Helen S. Henschel, sold off the farm equipment last year, though they still owned the property.
Mr. and Mrs. Helmich, who ran the family business together, would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary Jan. 20.
Mr. Helmich was a member and past president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, a former member of the Lewiston Town Planning and Zoning boards and a member of the Niagara County chapter of Cooperative Extension and the New York State Apple Growers Association. He had served for several years on the board of directors for the Farm Credit Union.
Surviving, besides his wife and sons, are his mother, Laura, and a sister, Jane.
Private services will be scheduled.