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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Elder in name only: Farming a way of life, means to stay young for LVCO couple

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  • It's Thursday morning, on a soggy summer day, with rain and hard grey skies bearing down on the Kaw Valley, near Linwood.
    But, the downtrodden conditions do little to dampen the dispositions of two residents at home off 206th Street, near the railroad tracks, off old 32 Highway.
    Jim and Edna Elder have warm personalities, wide smiles and easy laughs. And, they don't so much mind the weather giving them a break this morning.
    The Elders — Jim, 83, and Edna, 85 — are the fifth generation of Leavenworth County farmers to live and work the property.
    They were each raised nearby, both of their fathers were farmers, and there wasn't much doubt what they'd do for work as adults.
    Likewise, there's not much doubt they'll keep farming, growing beans, corn, wheat and raising cattle on nearly 1,000 acres, for as long as they can.
    After all, it's their way of life.
    "If I quit, I'd die," Jim said. "No kidding, I really do (think so). These guys that retire, (who) just go in and quit, they don't live but a couple of years after that."
    "We just enjoy it, so we keep doing it," Edna said.
    The Elders are well-known within the Leavenworth County farming community, and by extension, the Leavenworth County Fair.
    Jim was named Fair Board treasurer in 1972, and Edna worked those years as, essentially, the "treasurer's secretary," she said.
    "I wrote the checks and she kept track of where they went," Jim said. "I couldn't have done it without her. There was no way I could have handled all of it."
    The Leavenworth County Fair began in 1926, and is hosted each August at the Fairgrounds in Tonganoxie. This year's Fair is scheduled for July 29-Aug. 2.
    Jim and Edna, who stepped down earlier this year from their Fair Board duties, were honored for their decades of service during an appreciation dinner in February at the Fairgrounds.
    Jim received a watch and Edna a bracelet from the Fair Board.
    Fair Board President Mike Johnson, a board member for about 20 years, said the Elders' longevity and quality of service to the nonprofit group is extremely rare.
    "They were very, very dependable people," Johnson said. "They were always there … and were just pretty well dedicated to kids and helping out.
    "If there was anything you ever needed, they would stay there and help."
    Jim said serving the Fair Board and 4-H clubs has been particularly important to him.
    "I always liked 4-H kids," he said. "I always said if I could keep one kid from going wrong by going to that Fair and being in 4-H, that'd be a year well spent."
    The couple said they'll be involved with this year's Fair, though to a lesser extent than prior years.
    Page 2 of 2 - Farming, though, that's for life.
    The couple's son, LeRoy, also helps run the family operation. Their daughter, Sandra Hill, is a retired school teacher in Topeka.
    It's not an easy way of life, the Elders conceded, especially considering fluctuations in prices, and the all-important variable — Kansas weather.
    "Weather is always the biggest factor," Jim said. "You never know what you're going to get. … It's like Vegas, only the work's harder."
    Jim and Edna point to 1951 — their first year as a married couple — as proof of the unpredictability in agriculture.
    "In 1951, the year we got married, it flooded," Jim said. "There was water from this bluff clear to the bluff over at DeSoto. It washed everything. We never harvested a thing that year, the first year we got married."
    "We came home from our honeymoon and they closed all the roads the next day due to the flood," Edna said.
    But, there have been many good years, too, which Jim credits to hard work and good Kaw Valley ground.
    For Edna, there hasn't only been farming — she taught for four years at the Pleasant Valley rural school for students up to the eighth grade, and worked three years as a clerk at the Linwood post office.
    Jim's always been a farmer, though there was a time a Lawrence-area plumber was interested in bringing him on board. Jim's father told him about the opportunity — 10 years later.
    It's just as well, they said. Farming's been the constant, and helps keep them young.
    "I think it really has," Jim said. "… I'm glad I stuck where I'm at. You don't have to work for nobody. I've never worked a day in my life for somebody else.
    "We've just stayed in farming and we've made it work."

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