Oil Trough family earns farming honor

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Originally Published June 23, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 21, 2013 at 11:34 a.m.
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Carol Rolf/Contributing Photographer

The Parmer Lee Hankins Sr. family of Oil Trough is the 2013 Independence County Farm Family of the Year. Family members include, from the left, Lucinda and Parmer Hankins; their daughter-in-law, Kendra Hankins; their son, Parmer “Lee” Hankins Jr.; and their grandsons, Christian, 5, standing, and Joshua, 2, being held by his father. Not shown are the Hankinses’ younger son, Phillip Tyson Hankins, and his wife, Janie, who live in Fayetteville.

— Some call him “Farmer Parmer,” but Parmer Lee Hankins Sr. doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, it’s a fitting nickname for a man who farms 960 acres along and near the White River.

The Parmer Hankins family has been named the 2013 Independence County Farm Family of the Year. The family raises soybeans, wheat, corn and milo. Some years they raise rice, too, but not this year.

They also raise strawberries, tomatoes and sweet corn in a truck patch near their home in downtown Oil Trough. They sell this seasonal produce from a stand in their backyard.

Parmer, 61, and his wife, Lucinda, 57, have two grown sons. Parmer “Lee” Hankins Jr., 40, and his wife, Kendra, live in Oil Trough with their two sons, Christian, 5, and Joshua, 2. Lee helps his dad on the farm part time and stays home with the children part time; Kendra is a stay-at-home mom.

“Phillip” Tyson Hankins, 35, and his wife, Janie, live in Fayetteville, where both are educators.

When asked about his unusual first name, Parmer explained that it is a family name.

“It was my mother’s maiden name,” he said. “As I understand it, it was originally ‘Palmer,’ but there were already two Palmers in town, so they changed it to ‘Parmer.’”

Parmer is the son of the late Henry Tyson “H.T.” Hankins Jr. and Violet Parmer Hankins of Oil Trough. In addition to farming, the elder Hankinses owned Hankins Grocery, which is across the road (Arkansas 14) from where Palmer and Lucinda live, as well as H.T. Hankins Flying Service. H.T. operated the flying service, and “Miss Violet” ran the store.

Parmer’s brother, Garland Hankins, and his wife, Shirley, live just down the street from Parmer and Lucinda. The two brothers farm 490 acres in a partnership.

Hankins Grocery was built in 1904.

“Mother took it over in 1946,” Parmer said. “It was always a general store.”

Parmer said he helped his parents in all of their endeavors.

“On rainy days, I assisted my mother in the store, and on other days, I would assist my father with the flying service and farm,” he said. “Without their assistance, I would have never been in a position to acquire land and start farming on my own.”

Parmer and Lucinda purchased 160 acres of row cropland from his parents in 1985.

“Eighty acres of this land originally belonged to my grandfather Henry Tyson Hankins Sr. and his wife, Kate Adams Hankins,” Parmer said, adding that his mother’s parents, Milford and Cordelia Parmer, also farmed.

“Milford was one of the largest employers in Independence County in the early ’30s,” Parmer said. “He had 16 teams of mules and as many as 100 people working in the field. My mother’s early job was to cook for the field hands.”

The family sold the flying service in 2009 and the store in 2002.

Lucinda comes from a farming family as well. She is the daughter of Mabel Ford Sinele and the late G.H. Sinele of Oil Trough.

“He raised feeder calves in Independence County,” Lucinda said. “His dad and his granddad farmed, too.”

Lucinda’s mother taught math and was a 4-H leader at Oil Trough High School for many years.

“My mother’s dad, Howard Ford, also was a farmer; he farmed at Marked Tree.”

Parmer and Lucinda are both graduates of Oil Trough High School.

“I’ve known him forever,” Lucinda said with a laugh. “His mom went to church with my family.” The couple will have been married 41 years in October.

In addition to helping out on the farm, Lucinda ran a day care facility in their home for 27 years.

“I kept the teachers’ babies, mostly,” she said. “I never advertised. People would just call me up and say, ‘I want you to raise my child just like you did yours.’”

Parmer attended Arkansas State University for two years after he graduated from high school in 1970.

“I got my basics and took some business management courses,” he said. “I was able to take basic accounting and things like that. I came back to the farm and ran the flying service and helped out doing whatever I could do.

“I began helping Dad with the flying service when I was about 13, and he taught me to be a field-flagger. Then I learned how to pump gas into the airplanes. I followed the planes all around the area, servicing them. Neither Dad nor I ever flew the planes; we always hired pilots.”

Parmer said his sons helped him on the farm when they were growing up, but it became evident they really did not want to become farmers right away.

“I don’t look for my sons to take over,” he said.

And as far as his grandsons becoming farmers, he said, “I have no ambition for them. They will have to make their own decisions.

“Right now, I am in the instructional phase of my life. I look at farming as part of my legacy, but now it’s time for someone else to learn from me. I’m trying to teach about the chemistry of the soil, about how to use no-till methods of farming. If you leave the soil as it is, it will be better to you in the long run.”

In addition to the help he received from his parents, Parmer said he has been aided by others along the way.

“There’s a saying that goes something like this: ‘The sum is only as good as its parts,’” he said.

“That’s how it’s been for me. I have had lots of help.”

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