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Entertainer Maggie Mae enjoys performing in the renovated former dairy barn on their Oxford farm. She also travels the country entertaining.

Entertainer Maggie Mae enjoys performing in the renovated former dairy barn on their Oxford farm. She also travels the country entertaining. Photo By Gloria Hafemeister

Oxford couple finds alternative use for their barn

Jan. 24, 2013 | 0 comments


Roger Hilliard is proud of the fact that Pres. Abe Lincoln signed the deed to the farm where he and his wife, Maggie now live. While the farm has a long history in agriculture, it is now home to barn dances that have grown in popularity in the last couple of years.

Roger says, "My Mom’s uncle grew up on the farm we are now on. I grew up on a farm four miles from there and this farm was run by the Rodger family and passed on through the generations."

He recalls, "Ray Rodger had established a very well known herd of registered Holsteins with the Rodger Roost prefix. Ray retired in 1990 and died in 2000. Maggie and I bought the 245-acre farm in 2006 so it was able to stay in the family."

He says, "Now when people come to the farm for our barn dances there are often retired dairymen who tell us they remember being on this farm for dairy events and sales and they remember the registered herd that was developed here."

While Roger and Maggie both grew up on farms, Roger says he was in the dairy business long enough to know he didn’t want to be tied down milking cows every day.

Roger ran a soybean processing plant in Adams County along with raising crops on rented and owned land in the Oxford area. In the 1990s he served as president of the Wisconsin Corn Grower’s Association and is proud that during his tenure the board was able to get a tax incentive package for ethanol passed in the state.

He is currently president of the Tri-County Corn Growers organization. He said their current project is to work with on-farm studies of an underground irrigation system that will work on smaller, odd-shaped fields.


In 2001 the couple bought a restaurant in nearby Oxford, a town with a population of just over 500. He recalls, "It was sort of scary because we bought it the week before the tragedy of 9-11. We opened right after that."

While Maggie cooked she sang along with the radio in the kitchen. Roger liked her singing and customers could hear it and he suggested that she sing out in the eating area where the customers could enjoy the singing.

She did and it became a popular attraction.

One day a trucker in the restaurant went out to his truck to get his guitar. He did some Hank Williams songs and inspired her to buy a guitar.

"I had such a passion for it I would stay up four hours a night learning how to strum a guitar," she recalls.

Not only did the restaurant business pick up as word spread about the singing cook but people started asking for recordings of her songs.

They responded by hiring a Nashville CD producer and rented a recording studio and six months after she started singing in the restaurant she released what turned out to be a popular recording.

A couple of years ago a fan who owned a few CDs of Maggie’s was in the audience for the Midwest Country program in Sandstone, MN. The TV show airs on satellite stations across the country, and Maggie’s fan had forgotten her purse when she left. The theater found it, and listened to the CDs inside.

"The next thing I know I got on the TV show, and so now I’m a regular performer on there and I appear on television once a month," Maggie says.


Soon she found herself in demand to perform around the state and then around the country. That’s when Roger decided to rent out the farm land in order to devote more time to travelling with his wife, running the restaurant in her absence and remodeling the old dairy barn on their farm.

Maggie says, "The summer of 2003 Roger and friends cleaned out our barn on the farm and we have been holding "Music in the Barn" parties every month. This has drawn a large crowd from our community and has allowed us to keep country music alive. My life is so rich due to all of the good people in it, especially Roger."

Crowds of about 500 to 600 people come to see Maggie Mae and Heartland Country, a band she created.

"In my music career, the biggest thing for me is these barn dances. If I never do anything else in my lifetime, this is the ultimate to me because all these people that come have a genuinely good time and leave with smiles on their faces," she said.


When she’s not travelling and barn dances are not going on, she’s back in the kitchen cooking and coming out to greet breakfast customers with, what she calls, "a little yodel song to scramble their eggs."

Requests are often shouted out at Maggie Mae’s Cafe, and even the cooks and wait staff get in on the fun, wanting their boss to play "Take This Job and Shove It."

While they joke about their staff, they say the business would not be successful without them, especially now that the Hilliards find themselves on the road with the music so often. Most of their employees have been with them almost as long as the restaurant is in business.

"It’s the locals who keep coming in regularly and our staff who need the credit for keeping it going," Maggie says.

The cafe is half diner, half social gathering. It’s one of the few places you may enter in the morning where people are lively, talkative and have no problem giving a shout out to Maggie on stage.

Her selections range from Johnny Cash to Patsy Cline, but she will also slip in a yodel and sing a tune she wrote about former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, who was sentenced for corruption to the Federal Correctional Institution just down the road.

In fact, when he made the institution at Oxford his home, her business and singing reputation grew as Chicago news media came to the town and happened to stop in when she was singing. One of the reporters went back and wrote about the restaurant and singing in his column.

She is pleased the restaurant business has done well. She admits she had her doubts in the beginning and says, "I thought we’d last a year and then we would make it into a house," she said. "I was planning my bedroom in one area and visualizing what it would be like."

She says music was never in her plans. She just enjoyed singing while she worked. Roger agrees, saying, "Entertaining is the last thing I thought we would be doing, but we love it."

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