PINE SNAG It’s not unusual for Nan Wilson to fix a “farm lunch” for her family. Farmhands and friends, including new ones they’ve just met, are often asked to break bread with Nan, her husband, Rob, and their six children.
Such was the case recently when a guest arrived to tour their farm, which is located in the Pine Snag community near Heber Springs, and meet the family. The menu included stew made with homegrown vegetables and beef, corn on the cob and homemade ice cream made with milk from their dairy cows.
The Wilsons are the 2016 Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year.
Rob, 44, and Nan, 51, have approximately 400 acres in their operation, which they call The Wilson Ranch. They are assisted on the ranch by all of their children — Aaron, 20; Rachel, 18; Stephen, 16; Luke, 14; Joanna, 10; and John, 7.
The Wilsons raise a variety of livestock — 15 head of registered Native Aberdeen-Angus cattle, 17 head of registered Jersey dairy cattle, 48 head of Old World Black cattle, a breed that they have developed themselves, and 40 head of Katahdin sheep. They also have 50 acres planted in hay, which is partially irrigated; 25 acres of sorghum silage; and 175 acres devoted to pastures.
“Each family member has a role to play on the farm and a responsibility area,” Rob said. “We have tried to develop a family plan for maintaining a farm legacy. This requires continual family planning and communication so that what is gained is not lost by successive generations.”
Rob grew up in Heber Springs, the son of Ray and Linda Wilson. Rob is a third-generation dentist, with his father, Ray, practicing for years in Heber Springs and Rob’s grandfather, the late Henry Hudson Wilson, practicing in Camden.
Rob has one brother, Matthew Wilson, who is a lawyer in the Army and will soon be stationed in Huntsville, Alabama.
Rob graduated from Heber Springs High School and attended Arkansas Tech University in Russellville for two years. He graduated from the University of Tennessee School of Dentistry in Memphis in 1995.
“He applied to dental school and was accepted early,” Nan said. “The Lord was trying to speed him up.”
Rob graduated from dentistry school in four years and joined the Naval Dental Corps. He served a three-year tour of duty with one year at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and two years at Keflavik, Iceland, which was the site of a NATO base.
“I wanted to get some experience before I went into dental practice on my own,” he said when asked why he joined the Navy.
The Wilsons returned to Heber Springs in 1998, and Rob joined his father’s dental practice. His father retired in 2006, and Rob has continued on his own since then.
Rob is also the pastor of the Spanish ministry at Cleburne County Baptist Church. Nan is active in the church, as are all the children. Each family member has learned Spanish and speaks it to each other throughout the day.
Rob began traveling to Spanish-speaking countries in 2000 when he began to participate in medical missions.
“He wanted to be able to speak to the people directly, so he learned Spanish,” Nan said. “Then the rest of us learned, too. Now a large part of our dental practice is Hispanic.”
Nan grew up in Memphis, and that is where she and Rob met.
“He was in dental school, and I was working for a nonprofit Christian organization, working with underprivileged kids,” she said. “I coordinated testing and did tutoring. He was director of the Baptist Student Union at the dental school.
“I went there, looking for help in getting Spanish translators,” she said. “He showed up with 19 people to help me. I knew then I had to get to know that guy.”
The Wilsons have been married 22 years.
“When we were dating, he took me to the Mid-South Fair in Memphis,” Nan said, smiling. “We did the midway, and then he said, ‘Let’s go look over there.’
“I asked him where ‘over there’ was,” she said. “He answered, ‘Animal judging.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ That just shows how citified I was.
“But I went to the animal judging with him, and he picked the winners before the judges did,” she said with a laugh. “I thought then, ‘One day, I hope my children will compete in the fairs.’ And here we are, with six children who are doing just that.”
Nan came from a family of five siblings, the children of Milton Davis and the late Peggy Davis. Nan’s father is now 86 and lives on the Wilsons’ farm with his second wife, Sigrid.
“I have a twin sister, Jan Pierce,” Nan said with a smile. Her sister, Jan, and brother Scott Davis live in Alabama. Nan’s other brothers, Peter and Rick Davis, live in Siloam Springs.
Nan graduated from Belhaven College (now Belhaven University) in Jackson, Mississippi, with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree.
“That’s why I home-school our children,” she said. “Teaching is my passion. Plus, it keeps us close.
“When the kids get to the 10th grade, they are able to start taking concurrent college classes through Arkansas State University at Heber Springs,” she said. “By the time they graduate from high school, they already have enough credits for about two years of college.”
Nan and Rob’s oldest son, Aaron, graduated in May from Arkansas State University with a bachelor’s degree in animal science after only three years; that included taking courses at ASU at Heber Springs, ASU at Beebe and then ASU at Jonesboro. He will leave later this summer for Columbia, Missouri, where he will be a graduate student at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.
The Wilsons’ oldest daughter, Rachel, has also taken concurrent credit classes and plans to attend Harding University in Searcy to obtain a degree in family and consumer sciences with an emphasis on education. She works as a registered dental assistant in her father’s dental practice.
Stephen will also take concurrent classes. He hopes to attend College of the Ozarks at Point Lookout, Missouri.
“They call it ‘Hard Work U,’” Nan said. “The students work for their education rather than pay tuition. He plans to work in the dairy area, although he wants to be a dentist.”
Information from the College of the Ozarks website — cofo.edu — shows students enrolled in the work-education program work 15 hours a week, in addition to taking 12 hours or more of academic classes.
“Luke will probably do the same thing,” Nan said, adding that Luke wants to be an eye doctor. “Joanna and John are still too young to be thinking about college, although John wants to be a dentist, too.”
Rob said he is “honored” that his family received the Cleburne County Farm Family of the Year recognition.
“It was totally unexpected,” he said. “Beginning the farm, although not inexpensive in terms of money, time and work, has truly been the best family investment we could have ever made, and I thank the Lord that he has allowed us to do so.”