John Gerald “Jerry” Taylor, this year’s recipient of the Ozark Empire Fair Foundation’s Pioneer Award , is a lifelong farmer and cattleman reared and seasoned on Illinois prairie farmland.
Recognized at the July 22 Gold Buckle Gala in Springfield, the 89-year-old Buffalo resident first put his hands to the plow when “two-horsepower” was a team of draft animals, and those same hands today feed cattle from the back of a pickup truck and help young livestock exhibitors prepare and guide their cattle around the show ring.
Responsibility came early
Born in 1924 to James William and Ada Taylor in their farm house near Prairie City, Ill., Jerry was the fifth of the couple’s six children — four boys and two girls. The 160-acre Taylor farm was like most others on the Illinois prairie, producing corn, soybeans, varied livestock and large families. What families lacked in hard money they compensated for with hard work.
“We did everything with teams of horses and mules,” Jerry said. “We didn’t have a tractor until about 1945.”
The hard times of the 1930s were made even worse for the family in December 1936, when Jerry’s father died at the age of 56. Jerry was just 12 years old, his older brother, James, 21.
With the start of World War II in 1941, James was called into the military. “I took on responsibility early,” Jerry said. “My sophomore year my brother went into the service and I had to quit school to run the farm.”
The household had increased earlier, as well, with Jerry’s mother taking in three grandchildren. “With 10 people in the house, I don’t know how she did it, but she did,” Jerry said.
Thrust early by fate into the role of managing the family farm, Jerry remained at the helm for 45 years, growing the farm from its original 160 to 800 acres by 1986.
A good life
“I look back, and I’ve had a good life,” Jerry said.
That “good life” was what Jerry made of the hand dealt him as a young man. His passion for raising top-grade Shorthorn beef cattle started in 1943 when he bought two bred registered heifers with $300 borrowed money and began building a string of perennial show ring champions.
After Jerry and Mary were wed in 1948 they continued to live on the family farm, and in the spacious 1912-vintage house considered modern for its time. “We always had electricity and running water,” Jerry recalled.
Not only were Jerry and his siblings reared in that great house, but their three daughters, as well — Pam, Lana and Melody.
Wed to another Illinois farm product, Gary Naylor, Pam lives near Buffalo today. Sisters Lana Packard is inTexas and Melody Herman in Michigan.
Pam recalls growing up on the farm: “I was the oldest of three girls, so I guess I was my dad’s ‘boy.’ I was the one who would do chores when he was busy in the field. Of course, many years ago it took a very long time to get the field work done (I remember the three-bottom plow and the four-row planters). I remember my dad working long hours. He has always been a very hard worker.”
Jerry’s mother remained on the farm, too, until her passing in 1969 at age 84.
With all the children grown, Jerry and Mary sold the farm in 1986, and the old house was renovated by a younger couple who live there today.
A self-taught cattle breeder and judge, Jerry kept a herd of around 35 registered Shorthorn cows — a number matched to the available acres — to produce and sell purebred breeding stock. Judging his first show in 1947, he eventually judged cattle shows in 34 states. Nationally recognized and respected, he officiated at the International Livestock Exposition, the Pan-American Exposition in Dallas, the Eastern National, the Houston Fat Stock Show, the Dixie Nationals and many state and county shows.
A director and past-president of the Illinois Shorthorn Association and the Land of Lincoln Livestock Association, he was recognized by Western Illinois University in 1967 for his contribution to the livestock industry. In 1968 he was named “Mr. Shorthorn” by the state of Illinois.
Pam recalls her learning experiences: “I learned how to show from my dad helping me and watching him, as he has always been an expert showman, He was always very patient — an attribute he still exhibits today. When Brett [Pam’s and Gary’s son] was younger he would come out to the farm a lot and help him rinse his cattle, as well as work with him on showing. He was always very patient and kind in offering advice. Though he doesn’t help as much anymore, one will still find him at the shows watching grandson Brett.”
She continued, “When I was younger I would go with him when he judged county fairs in Illinois. I would sit in the stands and watch and see if I was placing cattle the same as he did. Then I would listen to his reasons — which he was very good at giving. I guess that’s how I learned to judge and develop a keen eye for the good ones.”
Though busy with shows throughout the country, the farm, his family and his organizational roles, Jerry still found time to work with local youngsters, encouraging them to get involved in 4-H and inviting them to the farm to learn how to groom, fit and judge show animals.
As Pam recalls, “Dad has always been glad to help kids. He had a hoof trimming table, and he would trim all the kids’ steers and heifers from miles around. He never charged one dime. When it was time to load up and go to the 4-H fair, our truck would be full. He would haul all the kids’ cattle from our 4-H club, because many of them did not have trucks. He was always glad to help with judging, too, and he continues today to help youth whenever he can.”
Jerry left Illinois in 1986 to take a job managing a Charolais operation in Alvarado, Texas. From there he and Mary moved to Franklinton, N.C., where Jerry managed another Charolais farm, and at the end of 1989 they moved to Buffalo, where Pam was a school teacher and husband, Gary, was an Extension livestock specialist.
Though he no longer has a farm or cattle, Jerry still chores daily.
“Although his age has slowed him down some,” Pam said, “he often helps us on the farm. He runs the square baler and rakes hay, and he feeds a group of heifers for us every morning. Though we both are seldom gone at the same time, Dad is the only one we trust to do our chores when we are.”
Jerry is an active member of the Dallas County and Missouri Cattlemen’s Associations and the Missouri Angus and American Shorthorn Associations. He volunteers to work with at the Ozark Empire Fair, where he has served as superintendent of several shows. He also served a term on the Buffalo Board of Aldermen.
Blessed with good health and vigor all his life, Jerry said he has never spent a day in the hospital. “If my dad has ever had a bad day, one wouldn’t know it,” Pam said. “H never complains. Ask him how he is doing and his replay is always, ‘Great!’ He has always put family first. As a father I am very proud of him. He’s a pretty great grandpa, too.”
Though many decades have passed since Jerry Taylor followed horses on the family farm near Prairie City, Ill., he still keeps his “hands to the plow,” not only as a “Pioneer,” but as a pilot for generations to follow.