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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Tailgate Lectures: Fields of Our Fathers

I haven't posted a Tailgate Lecture in a long time. I'll remind you that these posts are filled with stories and lessons I learned from my Grandfather. This Tailgate Lecture is a little bit different. In the fall of my senior year, we had a special assignment in Journalism Class. We were to write about the pivotal moment in someone's life, the person was to be very special to us. I easily chose my grandfather as my subject. In true fashion, I procrastinated about the project and ended up interviewing him during a trip home from a cattle sale when the only way I could write his answers was to use the light that shined in from the trailer of heifers we were hauling home. The essay turned out to be the neatest thing I have ever done for someone in my entire life. He was truly proud of it and it turned out that I got it written just in time - he passed that summer. I am proud to share this essay with you: 

Fields of Our Fathers

My grandpa loved farming, ranching and FISHIN'!
 His voice is deep and coarse. You can almost hear the dust, inhaled during countless hours spent in the fields plowing; settle in his lungs after he clears his throat mid-sentence. His skin is dark and weathered like a cowboy’s favorite pair of boots. Nevertheless, he is a stately man, tinged with the rough edges from the hard times in his life. Archie Rooney surpassed great adversity to own a farming  and ranching operation that encompasses nearly 20,000 acres in Southwest Kansas.

Grandpa Archie and my dad on "Doc" the family cow horse.
The beginning of Rooney’s life as a farmer, however, was not a smoothly paved road. It might be better described as baptism by fire rather than holy water. 

“I was 19 when my dad passed away. He left behind 2,000 acres and a young kid to run the place. I had always helped him out on the farm, but never made any real decisions,” Rooney said. 

Rooney’s father, Harry, suffered a severe cerebral hemorrhage while changing a flat tire. The hemorrhage led to his eventual death. Fear is the only feeling Rooney could recall upon the death of his father. As a college student, he was left with the responsibility of a 2,000-acre farming operation and a herd of about 100 head of commercial cows. Equipped with only the knowledge from his high school years, he had to make the farm work. A neighbor convinced Rooney’s mother to send him back to finish the semester. A few months from the end of the term, Rooney spent every weekend at home, working in the fields around the clock in order to get the spring planting finished for the farm.

“It was hard, and it was all I could do to keep up with the farm and school. Mom would sometimes have to put on her jeans and hop in the tractor like a man to help out. She hadn’t always. You see in those days women took care of the home; they didn’t work in the fields like the men,” Rooney said.

4 Generations of Rooney Farmers - Grandpa, Dad, Marguerite (Grandpa's Mom), and my brother, Bret.  
Over 50 years later, the kid who took the reigns of the family farm has become the retired man who enjoys watching his children and grandchildren carry out the daily tasks of farming through the kitchen window as he sips his coffee and reads the newspaper. He watched the farm switch from ditch to pipe and now to pivot irrigation. He witnessed the fluctuation of the cattle market and met the demands of both the commercial and purebred industries. He drove open-cab tractors over his family’s land and watched a new tractor equipped with Global Positioning Satellites practically drive itself over the same fields. Rooney has witnessed so much change, not only in the farming business, but in himself as well. 

“Dad’s death ended up being a good experience for me. I just never realized it until the farm became successful. Things got better, after I learned how to make it work,” Rooney said.

Later Rooney would experience a tragedy not completely unlike the one that befell his father. In his 70's, he was diagnosed and treated for lung cancer. For a time, he wondered if his success was coming to an end, but Rooney, unlike his father, had the chance to look out his kitchen window to see his son plant the same acres of wheat he had planted for his father 50 years before.

My Grandpa and I in April of 2007 - He wasn't about to let me go to Prom without his approval

All my best, 

Tera Rooney


  1. Grandpa(Dad to me) was so pround of each and every one of his grandkids. He would be busting his buttons with pride over you being in Vet School. I have a feeling he is reading this and smiling somewhere.

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