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McClures have lived Kansas history, farmed in tough times

Willard and Phyllis McClure have farmed through years of drought and economic crisis.

Willard McClure says he knows that he and his wife, Phyllis, had some hard years and tough times farming in Stafford County, such as the drought years of the 1950s, the farm crisis of the 1980s and many smaller crises in between.

But when he thinks back to what his parents and grandparents went through to establish the family farming enterprise in Kansas, he realizes that their hardship makes his seem tame.

“My granddad was a teacher, so my grandmother would stay on the farm through the winter while he taught at colleges in the area, then he would come back in the spring and get the wheat harvested and keep the farm going,” Willard says. “They went through grasshopper plagues, droughts and the Dust Bowl.”

The traditional two-story farmhouse where the McClures raised their family was originally a Sears and Roebuck catalog home that was shipped to Stafford and assembled in 1911 by his grandfather, Everett Gard.

“Grandad wanted everything just right, from the big red barn to the wooden windmill, and the house all painted just so,” he says. “And he built it just the way he wanted it.”

After his grandfather’s death, he said, his mom and dad moved into the farmhouse and were there until the early 1940,s when the family decided they wanted to change management and one of his mom’s cousins came to the farm.

“We moved to Hutchinson and my dad got a job building gliders for Cessna for the war effort, and later as compression station engineer for the natural gas industry,” Willard said. “Well, pretty soon the cousin decided he didn’t want to farm and he moved to Valley Center and my family came back to Stafford,” Willard says. “I was a junior in high school and I graduated from Stafford High School, which is where I met Phyl.”

Willard attended Kansas State University for three semesters before deciding what he really wanted was to marry Phyllis and farm. She had worked as a bank teller after high school to earn money for college and followed Willard to K-State, where she attended one semester before they decided to get married and return to the farm.

They were married for 64 years, farmed together, and raised three children — Doug, Cindy and Jon. She died in December of 2017 without knowing that their lifetime’s hard work was to be honored by being selected for the Master Farmer/Master Farm Homemaker Class of 2017.

“Phyllis had a real head for numbers,” Willard says. “She got a job as a bookkeeper for the Pratt Feedlot for seven years. Then she was hired as legal secretary for a local attorney, Dale Paulsen, where she worked for more than 30 years.”

The skills she learned in the job — filing, doing taxes, accounting — proved to be invaluable for the farm. She paid the bills, did the banking, took care of the books and filed taxes. In between, she cooked meals, kept house, and found time to bring meals and treats to the field for Willard, the boys, and the hired help.

As their family grew, Willard and Phyllis made several renovations to the house, including adding on a kitchen as well as a laundry and mudroom, A shelterbelt of trees was planted on the north and west edges of the home place, and for many years Phyllis tended a garden.

Willard joined the Kansas National Guard and served as a mechanic on small, fixed-wing aircraft at San Marcus Air Base during the Korean War.

He returned home just as western Kansas began to bloom with irrigation.

“I remember how the Extension folks would run buses out to irrigated farms to show what was going on with people adding irrigation,” Willard says. “I was concerned from the beginning about how long the water would last. It didn’t seem possible that there could be ‘endless’ water supplies.”

That concern led Willard to serve tenure on the Big Bend Groundwater Management Association and the Kansas Corn Commission, where he had an impact on the formulation of water rights policies in the Kansas. He later encouraged his son, Jon, to join Water Pack, where Jon continues to promote sustainable irrigation policies.

Other technology was coming to agriculture as well. Herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers became tools of everyday life for farmers.

“I was busting it keeping up,” Willard says. “That’s about the time we got into the seed business.”

It was a point of pride for the McClures that all three of their children graduated from college. The oldest son, Doug, went on to a law degree from Washburn University and to practice law for several years with Dale Paulsen, his mom’s employer. Later, he was employed by the Bank of America in Visalia, Calif., and then Rocky Mountain Bank & Trust in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he still lives with his wife, Becky.

Cindy Jacobson graduated from K-State in 1976 with a double major in history and education. She completed her master’s degree in librarianship from the University of Denver. Cindy has remained involved in the family farm operation, serving as secretary and co-treasurer for McClure Farms Inc.

“Cindy comes back to help almost every wheat harvest,” Willard says. Currently, she and her husband, Tim, travel the country while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

The youngest son, Jon, is taking over management of the farm. He is continuing his dad’s legacy of water management, soil health improvement and added technology. He and his wife, Rhonda, built a new home about 500 yards from the old farmhouse in 2007. Its driveway links to his parents’ driveway and loops between grain bins.

His marketing experience has led to the purchase of additional on-farm storage in nine grain bins equipped with a dump pit and vacuum pipe system.

Jon says that growing up, one of things he remembers best is the Brazilian ag students working as seasonal help, who the family hired through the California Farm Bureau.

“They lived with us, worked with us, went to church with us and were just part of the family,” Jon says. “I especially remember Luiz Padovan, who was back with his wife and family just last year and came by to visit. A lot of the people who came to work in Kansas and learn how we were moving to large scale farmers went back to teach others in Brazil. Lu was one of them.”

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