“Legacy Ozarkers” is a series where we learn about — and from — residents with deep roots in the region. Individuals featured in this column are either 80 years old or greater or have lived in the Ozarks for generations. Stories have been condensed for length and continuity, and are presented primarily in the interviewee’s own words. Please send an email to Kaitlyn@OzarksAlive.com if you know of someone who would be good to consider as a feature.
Elizabeth Gertrude “Betty” Vinyard Herman remembers a world that most learn of in history books.
Now nearly 96 years old, Betty has spent her entire life in Webster County: She grew up on a farm, one of a passel of kids, and spent days at a nearby rural school. Later, after her marriage in 1946, she spent her life tending to flocks of kids and chickens — the latter, working with around 50,000 at one time — and later as a businesswoman at L&R Farm Supply in Marshfield.
Today, she still lives on her farm near Elkland.
“I was born in 1926 in April. I was the tenth one, but there were 11 of us. Two big sisters had already gone and got a job but they came back now and then. I don’t know whether they was even proud of a baby — they just came so often. But of course they were.
“They said I cried a lot. I was rocked a lot. And I could be spoiled; I don’t know whether I was sick or not, because they didn’t go to the doctor then. The doctor only came to my house, my mom said, one time and that’s when I was born.
“We had a very humble life. Our meals was apples, because we had an apple tree. And we grew lots of corn and we canned. My mom canned a lot of green beans. We didn’t know what freezing was.
“Upstairs, the old house was really cold. We would put brick or rocks on top of the old heating stove. And we saved all the papers that we could get. And then we wrapped those up and take them up and put them at our feet. That’s how we would stay warm. That next morning, we would bring those papers down and put the bricks on the stove again.
“I remember some bad tricks that I did. We all did. Our parents got awfully aggravated at us, and it was to our disadvantage because it took away what we could eat.
“For instance, we replanted corn. We would get a lumberyard bag to put on us, and we put that full of seed corn, and we would just take three or four kernels out. We would take a hoe and dig up a little hole and put that seed in, and cover it up. And if there was corn coming, we’d leave it alone.
“We got so tired — and we had to walk that field and she put four or five of us out and we would each one have a field to take, and when we get to the end we stop and then we turn around like this and we came back.
“Well, we got awful tired of that stuff. We had to carry that corn in a bag around our bellies, and we didn’t like it. So we said, ‘Know what let’s do: Let’s bury this corn and just go to the house and, ‘Well, we’re done!’ We never once thought it would come up. So we went to the fence row, and said, ‘Here’s a good place.’
“So we just dug a hole down there and put all the corn down there. And then we got a hoe and we covered it up. Nobody would ever ever know that we had done it — says us. Well, we went to the house, and they was happy that the children got the corn replanted and now they could do something else.
That became a problem when all of the corn came up in one place.
“They knew that we had not planted corn. I didn’t get a whipping. My father was not a whipper. He made you do something that you didn’t like — maybe I had to go clean out the chicken house for doing that corn where it was. And we would say, ‘Are we going to get a whipping?’ ‘No, no, but you’re gonna dig potatoes all morning long in July and carry them to the house. Why do I have to whip you when you can go dig potatoes?’
“We said, ‘We’d rather take a whipping than dig for potatoes.’
What happened next time?
“We throwed the corn in the creek. And it didn’t give nobody no trouble. I forget if they ever said anything about it not coming up or not. Or did we just stay in the field for nothing? Did we play under a tree or play in the water? That’s what we wanted to do — play in the water and watch the corn go down. I never will forget replanting corn.
“There’s a fish story, too. We throwed the fish in the toilet hole. We thought it was the thing to do because we didn’t want to dress those fish that my father brought in. Whoever chose to clean the fish — it was not a thing that they liked to do. So they just went to the toilet. Mother said the next day she began to tell it. Ooh, flies, flies, flies, flies! The outhouse was on an old tub. So she got a hay hook, and she pulled that out to the field.”
Other moments speak to the poverty of the Great Depression, which was in full swing by Betty’s earliest memories.
“I know one time my mother was standing at the door. My father was in an old dumpy truck, and he was going to go to town to get feed. And he stopped … and asked, ‘Is there a cent of money in this house?’ And she said, ‘Thurman, if there is, I don’t know it.’ One cent of money.
“I never will forget her saying that. She just looked sad. And she said, ‘Thurman, if there is, I don’t know it.’ A penny! But if you talk to somebody else 96 years old, you’ll probably hear a lot the same story because nobody had any money on the farm.”
“But you know, we didn’t know any different. I didn’t know any different. I thought everything was just hunky dory and couldn’t be any better.”
As a child, Betty attended the one-room rural Daily School. She recalls traditions, such as pie suppers, but also the memorable day when the school caught on fire.
“Somebody called my mother and said, ‘Did you know that Daily School is burning?’ And she said, ‘Oh no — where are the kids?’ And she said, ‘Well, I think (the teacher) has them over there taking care of them. And they’re trying to get the seats and the books out — the big boys and the teacher are trying before it all collapses.’ And they did.
“My mother didn’t drive. She went to the road and she looked out at the road, and she saw smoke or something. She said, ‘Well, I hope they’re alright.’ And she said, ‘Well, I’ve not heard any differently.’
“You know, a lot of people would get in their car — she didn’t have a car. She didn’t have a car, and she had tons of work to do. It was just different then. We all took our own responsibility. She stood on the road and up come one head, then another, until five heads came up.
“And she said, ‘Oh, they’re all safe.’ She counted heads to see if we’s all safe.”
After eighth grade, the family could choose Elkland or Marshfield for high school. They elected to attend the latter, which is where Betty became acquainted with her future husband, Lawrence Herman.
“We were both in school. I was a year ahead of him. And we had study hall together, I think. He wrote me a note in study hall, and he gave me a piece of paper and he said, ‘Would you go to the show with me Saturday night?’ And I said, ‘I’ll have to go home and see if my folks say I can go.’ You didn’t go at 14, 15 or 16. You went when they said you could go.
“I wrote him back and told him that I could go. Boy, we went straight home — there’s no doing after the movie. And so then I got to go the next time. And I guess that other than one time, he’s the only date I ever had. You didn’t run around like you do now.
“He was pretty mannerly. He went to church, and his family was a good family. They weren’t drunkard, or bad-cussing people or anything. He was nice. There was no worry. My folks seem to be proud of him, because he was a quiet type. And they were farmers and hard workers.
“He went to the Army. When he came back in March, we was married in June. So it wasn’t long getting married after he got back.”
Betty wrote a booklet called “Lest I Forget” that chronicled parts of her life up through 1981. Her wedding, which took place in 1946, was a memory she included in its pages.
“We went to the Christian Church Parsonage just across the street from Marshfield Greenhouse. We did not have a big wedding. People didn’t spend so much money on weddings then. I might say, unless you wanted to. I got a new pink dress, street length, which I wore to church all summer. Grandpa Herman bought Lawrence a very nice suit. It cost $50.00! Now, that was really a price to pay for the common run of farmers. It was a gray striped suit which he wore for several years for his ‘best,’ ‘worst’ and ‘only.’
“We were married during the wheat harvest. Lawrence combined wheat until dew began to fall and the heads got tough. He came in dressed in his wedding clothes to my place to pick me up. We went to Marshfield in my father’s car as the Hermans only had a pick-up then, and Jack Herman and Helena Moore went with us. We were married at 9 p.m. We went back to my folks to get the pick-up and leave their car. My brother and nephew had tied tin cans to the pick-up. Did it rattle going down the road!”
After their marriage, Lawrence and Betty moved out on Turnbo Road. It was where they lived when the first of their children was born: James, who tragically was found to have significant developmental disabilities.
“We came home from the hospital when little James was one week old. The family on both sides were concerned about him. He began to vomit milk and I took him to (Dr.) Busieck, who said, ‘Oh, yes, this is the little boy who almost died the first day of birth.’ I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, how lucky I was he lived.’ I never thought of such a thing going on.
“But, oh children, I didn’t know what I was saying to wish that poor baby to live the torment he had in this world. We kept taking him to different doctors and finally one doctor examined him. He said, ‘Mrs. Herman, you sit in this chair and Mr. Herman, you sit there. I am telling you point blank your child is mentally sick, that causes his physical sickness.’ He would have a real slim chance to live until he was two years old, and if he did, his mental ability would never go beyond 18 months or two years. We left a sad couple.
“Some children are born deformed; he wasn’t,” she says today. “If you looked at him, unless he was educated in that line, you wouldn’t know that he was not a normal child.”
That opinion came in January 1948 — the same month their second child, Ben, was born. He would be followed by four other children: Martha, Roger, Phillip and Richard. In the early years of their marriage, change came when the Hermans decided to move from where they lived and worked near family, to their own farm.
“We lived there until we had, I don’t know, two or three children out there. I did not like living out there. I did not like it. I did not like it. They knew everything we did, every place we went, ‘Where are you going? When will you be back?’ Everything was everybody’s business. And I didn’t like it.
“We were all friends and everything, we just wanted a little bit more space.
“There was just an old man sitting out on the porch. And we were just going over the country. ‘How do you like this? How do you like this?’ We came to this church down here — and he was sitting on the front porch swinging. We stopped, and Lawrence said they talked … and he said, ‘Yes, I would sell it.’ And you know, that thing sold that day right there.
The day they moved to their new farm in 1952, so did the chickens — the start of a longtime business for the family. It was only one facet of their farming operation, which included apples, and a variety of animals over the years.
“We decided to get chickens, and we got the whole caboose at one time. I think we got 1,600 at one time.
“One of us would sleep on a cot with those chickens to keep the rats from carrying them off. I slept one night down there, and I slept one night here. If we hadn’t done that, the rats would’ve killed every chicken that we had. The rats was thick, and they would just pinch their heads off. But if you were there, if you made noise, you’d scare them off.
“We did it for maybe two weeks. And then they got big enough to fly in the air. I know that Lawrence tried to get it so that the rats couldn’t get in so good. But we had to do as we had the money because he was a person that did not want to not pay. He was a great stickler on paying your debts. And that is one thing that I liked. I don’t like to owe $1 million and then worry about it.”
“We had an old cow. And she gave more milk than what the children and us would drink. So I hated to throw it out, so I got an old can from the neighbor. And I stopped the milk truck and asked him if he’d buy my milk. And he said yes. How happy I was to get $17. I took it and I bought a wash rag.
“We didn’t even have a wash rag. We didn’t have a regular wash cloth. We used an old sock. Split an old sock. You don’t realize how hard things were for us. But you know, the Lord was good to us. He gave us a hard time, and we had to work in faith, but we got the blessings. I received the blessings from it.”
“I’m proud of every bad thing I’ve had, because that taught me to appreciate the good days. Bad things has their advantage. You don’t think it does at first, but it will make you stronger. It will make a better believer out of you.”
They were also hosts to a Balanced Farming Action Day in 1956, which brought massive shifts to their operation and were held demonstration-style to help farmers learn about better practices.
“We joined a balanced farming organization through the Extension to improve our operation,” she wrote in her book. “They asked us if we would be interested in having a balanced farming action day on our farm, and we said yes. Our farm was torn up and put back together again. Different implement companies would furnish machinery for various jobs over the farm. There were four dozers that came to dig a big pond in the woods. There were two tractors and trailers hauling loads of people over the farm. One station was a house stop, second was yard improvement.. Five old buildings were dozed down. Third stop was the chicken house, fourth was the egg cooling house, fifth was seeding alfalfa, sixth was digging the bond. Boy Scouts parked cars. The Fire Department came out and burned debris from old buildings.”
Their business model eventually shifted to focus on egg sales rather than chickens. By the late 1960s, they had a target of around 50,000 chickens and eventually built their own mill to produce feed.
“The hatchery egg business has gone sour and we are changing to layers and selling our own eggs,” Betty notes in her book. “It is a great risk to start a new business but we are going to try our luck.
“We have several women engaged to help grade (determining quality of) eggs. Often we would grade eight hours a day. We were taking a truckload of eggs out everyday. We had a van that would hold 51 cases and a big truck that would hold 150 cases.
“We sold eggs to Edwards Hatchery, and then Mounds Hatchery, and then we just put them on a truck and took them over the country,” she says today. “We went up the creek, up the water, and to the resort areas, and that’s where they paid the most. One egg route was 376 miles long.”
By the early 1970s, she writes, “I am known all over as the egg woman.”
Despite the success of the business, the Hermans eventually decided to sell out of their egg operation. Not all, however, is forgotten: Today, the route to their home is still called “Chicken House Road.”
“The trucks came and we loaded for the last time,” she wrote. “I shed a lot of tears telling our hired hands good-bye, my egg and apple customers I would not be in business anymore out here. I got acquainted with some of the most wonderful people I will ever come across. I knew I would never see them again. There was never an hour I don’t believe that I did not have an egg or apple customer from 8 o’clock a.m. to 5 o’clock p.m. and some times later. We had fun and we had trouble, neither one lasted long enough to be boring.
“The Amish came to help us load. Roger came from Springfield to take some pictures. Phillip and Richard, Lawrence and I were here. When they were loaded and going down the road, I’ll never forget Lawrence sat in a chair with his face in his hands and said he was sad. This was 26 years and six months to the day we had been in business and now it was going down the road. He asked Phillip how he felt. He said he had rather not express himself. Richard said he didn’t know. I told him I would let him know later. Roger stood up straight, tall and forceful and said this was one of the happiest days for him. His mother had worked down there enough. He was not at all sad. The room was silent for awhile.”
The chickens had left, but another business operation was already taking Betty’s attention. The Hermans joined forces with her brother, Ralph, in 1970 to start L&R Farm Supply in Marshfield. The business no longer exists, but was a staple in the rural community for decades.
“One day that my brother and his wife came out to visit and they just got to talking — ‘Boy, you know, Marshfield needs some equipment…
“They waited until Carl Young finished the building so they could start buying merchandise,” she wrote in her book. “They spent several nights discussing the many things that goes with a business that has that much inventory. Time went on and slowly L&R opened its doors.”
While much about life has changed since Betty’s birth in 1926, some emotions and tragic elements remain the same. One was the death of her husband in 2006. Another, which Betty says is the worst moment of her life, was when James, her firstborn, died at age 23. For a little more than half of his life, he lived in a facility in Marshall, Missouri, due to the significance of his disabilities and the family’s increasing inability to care for him at home.
“No one will ever know my sorrow or how or how many tears one woman could shed, far worse than death,” she wrote about her son’s need to live away. “In death, I could say he was happy. When I was packing his clothes to leave, I actually thought I could never stand it. The last day for him to be at home, his last supper, last night to put him to bed, last sunrise with James at breakfast. I held him on my lap all the way to Marshall.”
“You never get over the death of a child,” she says now. “And, you know, it was best. But the death of a child is — I can’t think of anything any worse.
That is, she says, unless you compare that with suffering. And, when weighing which pain was worse — hers for losing him, or his for suffering, “I would rather he was dead.”
“I just accepted whatever came what happened to him.
“I kept my mind thinking how happy he is now, not the twenty-three years of discomfort he had just left,” she wrote years ago. “I am sure James is with Jesus and has a robe of white array. That he is waiting for our coming, where the roses never fade.”