Kansas farmer, 90, maintains an active life and about 600 acres

Author: Kristy

  • By AMY BICKEL  The Hutchinson News
  • First Posted: May 03, 2014 – 11:01 am
    Last Updated: May 03, 2014 – 11:05 am

HUTCHINSON, Kansas — Jack Rexroad isn’t the bragging type.

He never has been. Ask the veteran farmer about the yield of his best crop in the past 90 years of life, and he will tell you straight up that he doesn’t talk in those terms.


“We had good wheat, good milo and good soybeans in 2013,” he said. “All I will say is it was good.”

Calvin Coolidge was president the year Rexroad was born. J. Edgar Hoover was appointed as the first head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Robert Frost won the Pulitzer Prize.

That was 90 years ago. Yet, Jack and his wife, Virginia, 89, are still living and working on the Reno County farm near Partridge where Jack grew up – their residence the 1908 farmhouse his grandparents built. The landscape around them, however, has changed. The year he was born, 30 percent of Americans made a living off the farm. Today it is less than 2 percent.

Farms are bigger – sometimes covering several thousand acres. Equipment is high-tech.

Yet, Jack, a fourth-generation farmer, still plants 600 acres of wheat, soybeans and milo – driving a cabless 1966 4020 John Deere tractor. In June, his family will gather for the annual wheat harvest, with Jack driving a grain truck back and forth from the field to the Partridge elevator.

“Why retire?” the farmer asks matter-of-factly, then adds, “I enjoy it. It’s all I know.”

Jack Rexroad grew up in the Great Depression – perhaps one of the last Dust Bowl farmers still farming the land. He recalls a cloud of dust rolling in one day while at Partridge’s school.

“I was in the intermediate room that sat on the west side of the school, and I remember seeing it,” he said of the dust storm blowing in from western Kansas. “They had to turn on all the lights inside, it was so dark.”

The summer of 1938, before his sophomore year of high school, he first laid his eyes on Virginia, who was preparing to start her freshman year in school.

He waited a year to ask her out on a date, eventually selling his 1934 blue Chevy Coup for a 1940 Plymouth “so we could double date.”

“I had chances to go out with other guys, but I only wanted him,” Virginia said with a grin, later adding, “he looked like Barbie’s Ken.”

He was cute, but also ornery, she said, recalling how her husband almost didn’t graduate from high school. He and a bunch of friends, as a senior prank, took all the school’s inkwells, full of ink, and threw them out the windows where they busted outside.

A school board member stepped in to make sure the hooligans graduated but probably because “they didn’t want them to come back another year,” Virginia said with a laugh.

Jack graduated from Partridge High School in 1941 but was deferred from serving in World War II because he was needed on the farm to help his father, Virginia said. She graduated in 1942 and attended one year of college.

But she wasn’t considering a career.

“All I wanted to do was get married, have kids, be happy and have a nice husband,” she said. “And I still have him.”

April 2 marked 70 years.

There have been good years and there have been bad years. The 1950s were dry. There were years of low commodity prices and high interest rates. Even this year is dry, Jack said, expressing some worry for the growing wheat crop.

The Rexroads don’t dwell on those details, however.

“Sure there have been bad days, but everybody has that at times,” Jack said.

They buried one grandson, Mark, along with a son-in-law. They’ve outlived most of their close friends and Jack’s fishing buddies.

On a spring day in the old farmhouse near Partridge, the couple, however, reflected on 70 years of blessings.

They raised one daughter, Susan Southards, on the farm. Today they have one grandson, Bret, and five great-grandchildren. A few of the great-grandkids help on the farm, and Bret said he spends some time helping his grandfather do farm work when he has time from his job. He also helps as much as he can at harvest.

“What is impressive is the fact they are still active on the farm,” Bret Southards said. “My grandfather even still does his own books.”

Most don’t realize his grandmother is 89, not in her 70s, he said, adding Virginia will literally “run” to get things.

He’s learned a lot from his grandfather, he said.

“He has a couple of sayings – ‘It is a good life if you don’t weaken.’ ‘You are only as good as your word,'” Southards said.

And another phrase Southards has heard his grandfather quip over the years, “‘Working has helped keep him on the farm.'”

“He doesn’t know anything else. It keeps him looking forward to getting to the next day.”

Jack admits he came from a hardworking family with a mindset that when there was work to do, you do it, even on Sunday.

“That’s just how we were raised,” he said.

But he also admits he moves slower these days. He had hip surgery a few years ago. He’s not able to do all the repair work himself, but longtime friend Wilmer Miller still comes over to help him with machinery maintenance and with harvest. Miller drives the combine.

The two plan to work on the combine this weekend, Jack said.

Virginia says she worries about her husband, still climbing on tractors and working the ground. But she also knows it has kept him going.

If it is his time, it is his time, she adds. For now, they just keep moving, whether it is farming, taking care of great-grandchildren or watching school events.

“I think for him, I think he feels like if you don’t sit, you don’t die,” she said, then recalled something her own grandmother once told her. “She always said it was better to wear out than rust out. We like to stay busy. We want to do it as long as we can because there will be a time that we can’t.”

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