Love of family, determination keeps Fowler farming tradition going
Editor's note: This is the first in a continuing series about Century Farms in Vernon County. Because there are so many, farms featured will be randomly selected from a list provided by the University of Missouri Extension. If you would like your family's Century Farm featured, call the newsroom at (417) 667-3344, send an e-mail to email@example.com or stop by the Nevada Daily Mail offices at 131 S. Cedar St., Nevada.
Gary Fowler holds five generations of memories in his heart.
"We've all got memories through the years from one to the next," Fowler said.
Memories of happiness and sorrow, hard work and tradition. These memories drive him to continue the more than 100-year tradition of the Fowler family farm.
Today, Fowler lives on the Fowler farm three miles south of Sheldon, with Carolyn, wife of 44 years, and daughter Christy. The present day farm actually consists of two farms, with land having been split and purchased by family through the years.
His great-grandfather, W.H. Fowler, and his wife, Sarah Jane, started the original farm when they came to Vernon County. On March 2, 1895, he purchased 910 acres of prairie land in Drywood Township.
As W.H. and Sarah's children grew, each of the four children were given a tract of land to establish their home. It was Edward G. (E.G. or Ed) and Matilda J. (Janey), who moved to section 11, where they raised 13 children on what became known as the Fowler "Home Place." E.G.'s son, Beverly, eventually bought the farm from his father after farming in partnership with him.
Gary, Beverly's son, who was born in Sheldon, was brought home to the farm when he was 13 days old. He has been there for 71 years.
From as far back as he can remember, Gary farmed with his dad, granddad and twin brother, Denny. "I just loved to farm," Fowler said. "Granddad E.G. and I worked together. I cherished him. He was quite a granddad. He always said I would have the farm someday." One of his first duties was to walk the cornfields in the summer with Denny, chopping out cockleburs.
"I don't believe there's a foot on this whole farm that we haven't been over," Gary said.
Once Gary graduated from school in 1955, he formed a farming partnership with his dad, continuing the tradition.
Even when a tornado all but wiped out the farm in March 1982, the Fowlers got right back up and dusted themselves off. The Fowlers rebuilt everything that they could, even keeping the same floor plan of their home.
When they needed it most, the Fowlers found strength.
"I believe in the Lord," Gary said. "That's our strength in staying here.
"The Lord has helped all of us. He sustained us to keep us going." Determination also kept the Fowlers going. "We didn't let heartache and hard times get us down," Gary said.
In 71 years on the farm, Gary has never regretted the decision to stay.
"I've enjoyed it all through the years," Gary said. "I never had a thought in my mind of 'Why did I stay?' We've had a lot of sorrow and a lot of hard work. It's all been rewarded."
The Fowlers were awarded the Missouri Century Farm Award in 1996 by the University of Missouri Extension Council. This recognition is given to families who have owned and operated the same Missouri farm for 100 years or more.
Keeping the family tradition is another reason Gary stayed on the farm.
"Good parents and good grandparents," he said. "I've always been proud of this family. I always wanted to stay and carry on what dad and granddad accomplished."
Today, the Fowlers farm cattle and grain. The Fowler farm has always possessed a reputation for progressive farming.
"I've seen lots of changes in the farm since I started out," Gary said.
"Granddad was the type of person who got new farming equipment to ease farming." Gary is inspired by the work ethic of his dad and granddad. Beverly passed away at 91 years old, outliving all other Fowler men to date. "On his 90th birthday, he ran a tractor and combine into the field for me," Gary said.
"He would not give up. Sometimes I have to make myself be that way." Gary gives credit to the Fowler women, too.
Although his wife Carolyn grew up on a farm, Gary said, "She learned to farm when she came here."
The Fowlers note the accomplishments of the Fowler women through the years, from Sarah Jane, who traveled as a pioneer, to Janey, who raised 13 children, to Gary's mom, Rose, who was a "city gal and worked as hard as any others," he said. "The Fowler women were the reason we made a success of things. The women, they've always done their part."
Looking to the future of the farm, Gary takes it day by day.
"We're here, keeping on for as long as I can," Gary said. "My intention is to stay here until the Lord wants to call me home. That was my dad's intention and my granddad's intention."