This story is published in partnership with Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project led by Kaitlyn McConnell.
RURAL BARRY COUNTY — “Pa” Dennis Epperly has become pals with countless people who have visited his flower farm — Pa’s Posey Patch — since he and his wife, Brenda, opened the labor of love about five years ago.
The couple created a place for the public to take photos; pick brightly-hued flowers like poppies, Sweet William, Lanceleaf Coreopsis and Bachelor Buttons; make memories; and meet the Epperlys. And, save professional photographers — from whom $25 is requested — it’s all offered simply by donation, even though the couple invests about $20,000 annually in the operation. (To learn more about the patch, read this 2022 Ozarks Alive story.)
“We’re old. We’ve made a living. We’ve got pensions,” said Epperly, who is in his 70s and is a retired vocational agriculture teacher. “We just want to get our money back if we can.”
2023 continued on that same path (on a larger scale, as the couple expanded from 15 to 17 acres), but a wrench was thrown in the plan when Epperly faced some health challenges.
After what was supposed to be a routine medical procedure, he experienced internal bleeding. Epperly and members of his family later shared on Facebook how dire the situation became, causing subsequent surgeries and hospitalizations.
Yet even while in the hospital, one of Epperly’s first concerns was how he was going to get all the flowers planted.
“I never thought I would ask for help, but I will need some,” he wrote on Facebook on April 29. “We will have lots of flower planting in early May. I hope I will be home next week. Having another transfusion this morning. I never expected this to be this way.”
His friends delivered.
“We couldn’t do it without that (support),” Epperly said on Tuesday, after his most recent release from the hospital to recover at home. “We didn’t ask anybody. We just had a lot of people offer. Up until this year, I’ve planted every seed.”
Epperly walks from his porch to the fields, wound VAC (vacuum-assisted closure of a wound) still in hand, and shares that his friend John Sullivan had been by just a bit earlier to plant seeds. Some of the ones he’s working on will help continue the farm’s mission into the fall, when sunflowers, zinnias, pumpkins and more will pop from the fields.
“We met on horseback,” Epperly said of his friend of more than 60 years. “My brother and his uncle rode horses, so they took us one day to keep us out of their hair. We’ve been together ever since.”
Sullivan isn’t the only one who has helped support the farm. Another friend who has been by to assist is Duane Kaiser, and other family members have also pitched in to help — especially during crunch time as the Epperlys prepare for this weekend’s annual Memorial Day Poppy Festival.
“I just couldn’t cancel it,” said Epperly of the event, which is scheduled from May 27-29.
During the event, visitors are welcome as always to explore the farm’s flower fields and take photos. The three-day celebration, however, features a few additional draws, beginning with hamburgers, poppy seed bread and lemonade.
While they will accept donations, the only set price for the event is a $5 charge for a burger. Even the sweet bread and lemonade are donation-based.
To help keep things rolling, his wife of more than 50 years is also out in the fields on a tractor. Her “other duties as assigned” have also evolved this year: In addition to helping care for her husband, she’s helping in the flower fields.
“He (usually) has done everything and I do this,” said Brenda Epperly, showing fields where she typically mows and weedeats, “and he does all of that.”
She’ll also be in the kitchen baking poppy seed bread.
“There’s a bunch of us making poppy seed bread and serving lemonade,” she added. “Then we’re going to have hamburgers. And we don’t know how many to get.”
To that point: “On Facebook, it says 220 are coming,” noted her husband, “and then it says 4,900 are interested.”
If on cue, a family friend rolls up at the farm, ready to help with the poppy seed bread supply.
“I’ve got 12 loaves in the freezer,” the friend said.
You can learn more about Pa’s Posey Patch on Facebook. Visit the Facebook event page for details on the 2023 Memorial Day Poppy Festival.