Pope County family receives honors; farm dates to 1893

Carol Rolf Originally Published June 9, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 7, 2013 at 12:02 p.m.
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Nick Hillemann

The Gary Rowlands family of Russellville, whose farm is in Hector, is the 2013 Pope County Farm Family of the Year. Family members are, from the left, Scott Jackson and Rebecca Rowlands Jackson with their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Anna, of Fayetteville; Willette and Gary Rowlands; and Kristen Rowlands Minton and her husband, Dr. Randy Minton, with their two daughters, Ella Minton, 3, and Addy Minton (front), 6, of Little Rock. Rebecca gave birth to her and Scott’s second daughter, Charlotte Grace, on May 29.

The Rowlands family has farmed the same plot of ground for 120 years, and experience means something.

That plot of 76 acres has grown over time and today, Gary and Willette Rowlands of Russellville operate a 1,400-acre farm in Hector, raising cattle and hay.

The Rowlands family has been named the 2013 Pope County Farm Family of the Year. The family recently was recognized as an Arkansas Century Farm operation by the Arkansas Agriculture Department, meaning the same family has farmed the same land for at least 100 years.

“I’m stunned,” Gary said when asked how he felt about being named Farm Family of the Year. “It is a wonderful surprise. It is the result of a lot of people helping me. I have a wonderful group of neighbors. Everybody helps everybody.”

Gary said his great-grandfather, David Rowlands, bought the original plot of land from the U.S.

government in 1893. “We have the original U.S. land patent showing this purchase,” he said.

Gary is now the custodian of that patent, which is signed by President Grover Cleveland. The land patent passed from his great-grandfather to his grandfather, Richard Allen Rowlands, to his aunt, Sybil Rowlands Chambers, and now, to him.

Gary, 64, and Willette, 62, have two grown daughters and four granddaughters; the granddaughters represent the sixth generation of this farming family. Both daughters helped out on the farm when they were younger.

The Rowlands’ oldest daughter, Kristen Rowlands Minton, 37, and her husband, Dr. Randy Minton, live in Little Rock with their daughters, Addy, 6, and Ella, 3. Kristen is an attorney with Regions Insurance and Randy is a cardiologist.

Their younger daughter, Rebecca Rowlands Jackson, 31, and her husband, Scott Jackson, live in Fayetteville with their daughters, Anna, 2 1/2, and Charlotte Grace, who was born May 29. Rebecca is a pharmacist for Walgreens and Scott is an attorney.

Gary is a son of the late Bob and Fern Rowlands. He has one brother, Don Rowlands of Hector, and one sister, Janie Chambers of Fayetteville. Gary graduated from Hector High School in 1966 and from Arkansas Tech University in December of 1970. He and Willette were married Nov. 20, 1970.

As a graduate of Tech’s Reserve Officers Training Corps program, Gary was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and assigned to the Signal Corps at Fort Gordon, Ga. He served in the Army for 13 months, rising to the rank of first lieutenant before he was discharged.

“All second lieutenants got promoted to first lieutenants if they could live through that first year,” he said with a laugh.

Gary said, as a kid, he “tagged along” with his father, helping him in his cattle operation. He bought six black heifers while he was in the Army. After he was discharged, he continued to grow his herd with the help of his dad. “That evolved into what we have today,” Gary said, adding that he has a mixed herd of about 300 Black Angus and Brangus cows and calves.

“Carroll Owens helps me out on the farm,” Gary said. “He is my right-hand man.”

“Our cows typically calve in the late winter/early spring and we wean the calves in October/November,” Gary said. “We raise the calves, giving them shots, feeding them and letting them graze in pastures, until they weigh 750 pounds. We sell them in the western markets of Oklahoma when they are 12 to 15 months old.

“We retain some heifers, but we also buy some mature cows,” he said. “We buy bulls to bring new genetics to the herd and a better quality than the last sire.”

Gary said he recently started using electric fences and the rotational grazing system developed by the National Resources Conservation Service.

“The Arkansas Extension Service has finally convinced us of the benefits of rotational grazing,” he said. “This will help us reduce the number of days requiring feeding of hay in winter.

“By using rotational grazing we divide a pasture into four small paddocks. Once the cows have eaten all the grass in one paddock, we rotate them to the next paddock by the use of electric fences.”

The Rowlands raise hay on 240 acres of their land. “I like to have 2,000 bales in the barn when we start feeding in the winter,” Gary said.

Willette said she has worked off the farm, but her main job has been “to work wherever Gary needed me to work.”

She is a daughter of the late Pat and Pauline Humphreys of Russellville. She graduated from Russellville High School in 1969 and attended Tech for a couple of years. “Gary was in the Army at that time,” she said. “After I left college, I worked for Arkansas Nuclear One for several years. Then, after the children were born, I worked in the family business. We have real estate investments, and I help manage them. He’s kept me busy.

“One of my main passions is designing and building houses,” Willette said. “I helped design and build three homes for us, including the one we live in today. I also designed and built two cabins at Hector; we have sold one of them. The other cabin was to be our retirement home, but Gary will never retire. He is quite the entrepreneur. He keeps me busy.”

The Rowlands have commercial and residential real estate investments that supplement finances for their personal expenditures.

Although they live in Russellville, Gary said he spends three or four nights a week in the farmhouse his dad built 64 years ago, which is off Pine Street east of Hector. His niece lives in the house now.

“I enjoy coming out here,” he said. “It’s nice to get away from all the activities.

“My brother lives across the road,” Gary said. “He, my sister and I inherited Dad’s cattle. My sister sold us her part. My brother and I look after the farm together.

“One of my best memories is seeing my dad driving a tractor and baling hay with White Oak Mountain in the background, the blue sky so still. I watched him driving that green tractor with the yellow wheels. It’s still so vivid.”

Gary said his dad, a World War II veteran who earned a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars, always told them, “ ‘We’ll get through this,’” when they were having bad times.

“His words still ring true today and help carry us through difficult times,” Gary said.

“I feel blessed to have been able to work with my dad on a daily basis for 20 years. We never fussed. He was a delightful person.”

Gary and Willette are members of the First Assembly of God in Russellville, where both are Sunday school teachers and he is a deacon. Gary is a past president of the Russellville Board of Realtors and the Pope County Cattleman’s Association and is the current president of the Pope County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. He has been a member of the Pope County Fair Board and the Pope County 911 Advisory Board. On the state level, he has served on the State Farm Bureau Beef Board and has been a delegate to the state Farm Bureau Convention.

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