Soil and crop sciences department begins new recognition program
McKINNEY – John Ayers, Class of 1937, was presented with a plaque to commemorate the 75th anniversary of his graduation from the Texas A&M University’s department of soil and crop sciences.
“We really wanted to take time to recognize your contributions to society: the fact that you kept the farm going and in the family for 100 years, the fact that you contributed through the military and through the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, and through your farming operation and community service for so many years,” said Dr. David Baltensperger, Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department head, as he presented Ayers with a plaque at his home in McKinney.
“We appreciate the courage of the young men who helped found Texas A&M and make it into the great university it is today,” said Patrick Williams, Texas A&M Foundation director of development. “It was either courage or naïveté, but either way you all have helped us build an extraordinary university.”
Ayers, 96, was born on the Ayers Ranch near Chillicothe and lived there on and off until he climbed down from his final horse ride at the age of 80 and retired.
He attended school in the Chillicothe Independent School District. It was while he was there that he made his first campus visit to Texas A&M with a 4-H group. He said he liked the college and made a decision to attend when he graduated.
He borrowed $500 from his grandfather, John G. Ayers, to go to college and his father, Sydney Ayers, drove him to the campus in an open touring car. He remembers a few things from that first day: eating in the mess hall, being dropped off with his suitcases at a new dorm and that it was a very hot day.
“I also remember, the first few days when you went as a freshman and asked for someone to pass the butter or something like that, you didn’t get anything on your plate until you knew what they were called,” Ayers said.
Some terms he recalled as part of the tradition were ketchup was blood, beans were bullets, milk was cow, the knife was a saber and the fork a pitchfork.
While Ayers enrolled in classes in crops, animal husbandry and some veterinary courses, his fondest memories are of playing the e-flat saxophone in the band and living in Bizelle Hall. He said he played at all the games and was in the band for four years.
Ayers also received military training in the Corps of Cadets, where he was a part of the cavalry. Being from a ranch background, he said he liked that, but the cavalry program was abandoned and he was put in a tank.
“I didn’t care much about those tanks … still don’t,” Ayers said.
He recalls jobs were not plentiful when he graduated, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service was opening offices to help farmers with terracing the land and other practices. He went to work with them and moved from Marshall to Big Springs to Hamilton and then San Angelo.
While he was in Hamilton, he met Charlene Chandler and married her on March 7, 1943.
Then came the draft, Ayers said, which meant a pay cut from about $160 a month with the Soil Conservation Service to about $20 a month in the military.
Initially sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., he would quickly move on because of his A&M experience, which made him a candidate for officer training school. He went to Fort Belvoir, Va., received his commission and became a second lieutenant. Sent to Camp Ellis, Ill., he served as officer in charge of the police and prison, camp range officer and then provost marshal.
Ayers later went to adjutant general school at Fort Sam Houston and was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco, Calif., where he expected to be sent overseas to Japan. But that day never came, and he was sent to Fort Lewis, Wash. for about six months, then was honorably discharged.
That’s when Ayers returned to his roots. In 1946, instead of returning to the Soil Conservation Service, he moved his wife and daughter to the ranch. There he engaged in ranching, wheat farming and raising Hereford cattle in partnership with his father.
The family ranch, established by his grandfather in 1883, was recognized in 1983 for more than 100 years of continuous ranching operation by members of the same family. They were the first Wilbarger County family to receive such recognition under the Texas Family Heritage Program, according to the program’s records.
John G. Ayers, along with his cattle brand, is inscribed on the granite monument to trail drivers at the Doan’s site north of Vernon. The Ayers’ cattle brand was the first to be registered in Wichita County in 1882, the year the county was founded. John G. Ayers was the first citizen to pay taxes in Wilbarger County in 1884, according to the family.
Ayers said over the years many members of his extended family lived on those 3,000 acres that were half natural pasture and half cropland. He said he felt like he knew what he was doing because he was raised doing it.
Ayers recalled the introduction of the tractor to the farm.
“Dad had bought another farm and he went on the note (government loan) and bought a tractor. It was a ‘poppin’ Johnny’ and when he pulled it up to the corral, it scared all the horses and they busted down the fences. We didn’t use that tractor for about a year after that.”
And they used it to raise crops.
“I don’t raise cotton!” Ayers exclaimed during the interview. “We grew wheat for harvest and the rest was dedicated to feed for cattle. It worked out pretty good, except when we had bad years.”
That included raising sorghum, which he got a first-hand lesson on as the friend of Roy Quinby, known for his ground-breaking work in the field of grain sorghum hybridization, reducing its height and changing its growing cycle.
“That man really did something you can’t believe. He and his partner,” Ayers said of Quinby’s work. “It was one of the greatest things they ever did.”
He also was interested in the work of the “soil boys (agronomists and breeders) who would get together and try to make a crop of wheat that would grow in dry conditions and make some forage and if it rained, it would make a good crop of wheat. They are still doing it, and they are doing some good.”
Ayers said after he returned to the ranch, he became interested in helping the community. He served as chairman of the board of the Chillicothe Hospital. During his term, a new hospital was built in 1973 and plans were made for the new nursing home.
He also served as chairman of the board of the First National Bank of Chillicothe and the First United Methodist Church, and was a board member of the Chillicothe Independent Schools. While he was on the school board, Ayers said he supported school integration, new building programs and the merger of the Chillicothe and Odell school districts.
Ayers and his wife currently live in McKinney, near their two daughters, Jane Davis of Dallas and Anne Wiginton of Plano. He has three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Baltensperger said the soil and crop sciences department recently started a recognition program for its alumni, and Ayers, along with Leo Witkowski of Hereford, are the first to be recognized for their lifetime accomplishments and reaching the 75th anniversary of graduation.
Alumni can give back to the department in a multitude of ways that advance agriculture and continue to help turn Aggies, like Ayers, into outstanding citizens and build well-rounded, positive leaders whose lifetime contributions are immeasurable, Baltensperger said.
To discuss giving opportunities or learn more about the program, contact Baltensperger at 979-845-3041, firstname.lastname@example.org ; visit http://soilcrop.tamu.edu where the “Donate Now” link can be found at the very top of the page; or go directly to http://bit.ly/KP6D1M .