October 18, 2003

The Ice Cream Social for Farm Family members and descendents was held at the Heritage Center on this beautiful fall day.  The school continues the tradition of acknowledging and honoring the Farm Family’s unique part of the heritage of Rabun Gap Nacoochee School.  Billy Joe Stiles had set up a display with pictures of all the farm families. 


Whole families were brought into the Farm Family from the surrounding mountains.     After reading the pamphlet - "Rabun Gap-Nacoochee, Series 3 - May, 1941 - Number 3" which outlined the program, our admiration for these people has grown.

 The following is taken from the above pamphlet and outlines the Farm Family Program.

 1.  "Families are admitted for only one year at a time.  The year begins the first day of January and ends the last day of December.  Families not admitted for the following years must vacate their houses and farms to new families not later than December 31.

2.     Each family is given its own separate boundary of land and required to operate it as a model farm.  All of the land must be made to yield its share of income.

3.     A house and farm, a garden and one acre of truck patch, pasture for two milk cows and firewood for fuel are allowed to each family free of rent.

The Frances Barton Cottage and barn.  The World War I Cottage and barn.   These are two of the four cottages furnished by the United Daughters of the Confederacy for the Farm Family Program.

4.     The home and farm must be well kept.  The entire boundary must show proper care and attention.  The family must do minor repairs to buildings, gates, fences and road.  The School will do larger repairs and improvements.

5.     The family must furnish its own stock and farming tools.  Heavy farm machinery is furnished by the school on a co-operative basis.

6.     When called upon and when not engaged in work on its own boundary, the family must furnish labor to the School at customary wages.

7.     The family must keep a farm account book showing what it makes and spends and saves.

8.     The heads of each family must be found at home and at work regularly, either for themselves on their own boundary, or for the School.  Parents must keep their children in school regularly, and train them at home in habits of work and good conduct.

9.     The family is expected to take advantage of church privileges offered in the community by sending their children to Sunday School and by attending services.

10.Additional rules and regulation are announced from time to time.

The whole establishment is a School.  Each farm is a foundation for the education and the support of a farming family during the time of residence.  Each home is a school dormitory and each man, woman, and child of school age is a student.  Every acre of land, every garden, every kitchen, every barn, every cornfield is a part of the course of study."

The boundary mentioned in the above was about forty acres per family including a garden and a pasture.  The father was required to attend a weekly adult education class pertaining to methods of agriculture, shop work, and other farm related subjects.  The mother attended weekly classes in home making which included cooking, sewing, and health.   Each family was allowed, if they followed the rules, to stay in the program for five years.  Harold tells us that the five-year rule was flexible.

In the pamphlet, “CANDO”, written by O. C. Skinner in 1951, he stated, “As a broad viewpoint, it may be understood that the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School has had, since its origin, a great continuing paternal and benevolent interest in the educational advancement of the people of the surrounding community and in the increase in farming knowledge of the farm families.”

We hope this brief history of the program has not been boring.  When we were at Rabun Gap in the 50’s, we just accepted the farm families as a part of us and never thought too much about what an incredible program Dr. Ritchie had integrated into our school. 

Janie and B. J. had set up the main room in the Heritage Center to welcome everyone to sit, eat, talk a spell and share some memories.


 Carol Dickerson Dunbar checks in with Janie

Carol told us: 

"Although I did not live on the Farm during the Farm Family Program, I am a direct descendent of the Will and Bertha Thurmond family, who was one of the first of the many farm families.  My mother, Ione Thurmond Dickerson, was next to the eldest girl.  When they moved to the farm at RGNS, they were a family with eight children.  I don't know the exact date they moved from White County, but from documentation I have, the house was built in 1928, built by school carpenter, tenants, and students.  It had six rooms and was a frame cottage, with an open porch.  The barn was also built in 1928.  It had six stalls, harness room, hall and loft." 

Carol’s husband Bill catches up on the latest news of the valley from B. J.


During the social the quality of students that Rabun Gap has produced over the years was being discussed when Bill asked if he could make a comment.  He said, “I know, because I married one and she is not only smart but beautiful as well”.  


Janie asked the Director of the Farm Program, John Hart, to drop by and tell the group about the current Farm Program.   John brought his family with him.  

Here we have John, his wife Kim and sons Lincoln and Jarred.  Jarred was proud of the fact that he had been digging “taters” that morning.

John, with the assistance of 16 students in the program, takes care of the land and the animals.  The school’s herd of limousine cattle will be further reduced and a small mixed herd will remain along with other livestock including the sheep.  The students help care for the animals and take them to competition in fairs and livestock shows.   The herd will be built up with the aim to produce champions for these shows.    This beautiful cow with her calf is a part of this herd.

  John’s presentation very clearly showed his love for the land, the animals in his care, and his students.   He was already worrying about losing these students who had been in the program with him for several years.    Can you imagine trying to get in all that hay by yourself?   Earlier in the year we stayed at the Heritage Center and watched John mowing the hayfield at 10 PM. 

Adam Tyler 8th grade, Apraha Henry-Fisher 8th, Inda Pennington 12th, Seth Penland 11th

This smiling group of students, who are farm family descendents,  carry on the family heritage by participating in the Farm Program.   John Hart praised this group for their desire to learn and their hard work but was lamenting the loss of his tractor driver, Inda, upon graduation next year.   All who participated in the Spring Clean-Up Day at the Heritage Center remember Adam who donated his strong back and willing hands to our efforts.   Seth is active in the show competition with success and with one more year, maybe a blue ribbon is in his future.

Betty Coleman McEachern, J.T. Coleman, Elaine Tyler, Jerry Holden, Joseph White, Helen Holden White, Katherine Holden Teem

Katherine Holden Teem stated, "It was the best time of my parents lives, we were all happy here".  It was obvious these Farm Family members and descendents hold a deep and abiding love for Dr. Ritchie and his vision and for what it gave their families.  We were privileged to share this day with them.

Three Generations of Farm Family, Adam Tyler, Lorena Brown James and Elaine Tyler

Betty Coleman McEachern and Dr. Charles Pennington '69

Jo-Anne Stiles Hubbs '48 told the group about her family and where they had lived.  The lady in the background is Lorene Brown James, the daughter of Mr. Ransom Brown, Farm Family member.  Lorene's grandson, Adam Tyler who is a Farm Family Scholarship recipient, is seated with her and Adam's mother, Elaine Tyler. Dr. Charles Pennington sits to her right. 

World Champion Ice Cream Eating Team

Where there is fun and food, can Dale be far away.  Here she is trying to keep Carol Dickerson Dunbar and Carolyn Carnes Brewer from getting to the table first.  There was apple cobbler, peach cobbler, ice cream, cookies, fruit, hot cider, coffee and soft drinks.  Everyone sampled and sampled and sampled. 

As the happy group was bidding farewell and "See you next year!",  Janie was pleasantly surprised by a visit from Martha Roberts McDowell '38JC and her son Jim Nix.  Martha had generously presented the Heritage Center with a new stove.  While chatting with Janie and Dale, Martha made the mistake of admiring the class photos and asked how much to get one for her class.  The dear lady never had a chance, Dale had the $30.00 and you will be proud to know that the first JC Class picture will be on the wall by next Homecoming.  Maybe that will inspire the other JC classes.

 J. T. Coleman, Farm Family President and Representative to the Alumni Board,  told the gathering how honored he has been to represent them.  He also stated that it was time to pass the honor and asked for a volunteer.  Only one name came up and was greeted unanimously with hopes that he might accept the nomination.  The nominee to represent this prestigious group is J. Harold Thurmond.


The Thurmond Family circa 1928

According to Dennis Dickerson, " It is made on the steps of the farm house behind the Heritage House on Meadowbrook Dr.  Pauline died at about age 22 of typhoid fever (I think, anyway one of those diseases that is easily cured now-a-days).  Riley was killed in World War II.  Wade, Eloise and Pledger are still living.  I believe they all graduated at RGNS in the 30's. Ione is Carol, Beth and my mom, Wade is the father of Charles  '61.  Clarence is father of Annette, William and Harold."

We are blessed to have two descendants of the Thurmond Farm Family.  We are proud to present the memories of Carol Dickerson Dunbar and J. Harold Thurmond. 

Carol Dickerson Dunbar

 “As a descendent, Bill and I had the privilege of enjoying the Ice Cream Social at The Heritage Center a few weeks back.  What a wonderful time of fellowship, sharing, and eating! 

Since the Social, I have talked to an Aunt and an Uncle regarding their feelings about the program and what life was like.  My aunt told me that life on the farm was wonderful.  They had a much better life, a better home, but with responsibility of learning, as well as maintaining the family and working the farm.  My uncle told me that Granddaddy Thurmond planted only one crop, but died before he was able to harvest even one crop.

Three weeks before he passed with typhoid fever, the oldest daughter died with typhoid/pneumonia, so the family had to deal with a real hardship and heartache.  I guess Grandma Thurmond was determined to raise the family and did so, living on the farm for about six years.   It must have been very hard for the family to keep up the "boundary”, as I have a copy of a letter from A. J. Ritchie, dated May 16th, 1932 asking all the farm families to set aside a day to help "any family this way that has a rough boundary and is behind with their work.  The two Thurmond boys are at a disadvantage because they are without the help of a father in their farming and they are in school four days of each week, and will be until Commencement is over.  So let's set a day and combine forces for one day to shape up the Thurmond boundary.  The School is more interested than any family and will furnish a large part of the labor and teams."  

 Aunt Eloise told me that sometimes they went to Dillard to Bill Brown's store (Father of David Brown and Uncle of Carolyn Brewer) where they could buy cloth for a dress for 25 cents.  They also could buy coffee, flour, sugar, kerosene and sometimes a piece of candy.  They could get a Coke for 5 cents at Deals Drug Store in Dillard.  She also told me that on the Kellys Creek Road, there was a beautiful grove of trees and gypsies would come there regularly and set up camp.  This must have caused a lot of excitement.

Grandma T. and the family planted a vegetable garden with "everything in it" according to Eloise.  They canned everything they could in the fall and she said the living room was sometimes 2 deep with cans cooling before storage.  Since they lived near the Ritchies and Grandma and Mrs. Ritchie were very good friends, she said Mrs. Ritchie let them put their milk in the Ritchie spring.  She said the spring had different depths and would keep things pretty cool. 

I asked her about the Christmas parties.  She said they held them in the school auditorium and all the families came.  There was no Santa Clause, but presents were provided for everyone.  I was able to get a copy of the list of presents in the Thurmond file at the archives and each person is listed with the gifts they received in 1930. They would sing songs and have a very good time.  

  She remembers playing with the "Chambers girl, Marvin Chambers and someone named Louise and Dorothy".  She was able to name some families who lived on the school farm:  the Neals, Burrells, Dowdells, Carnes, Lovels, and Canups.

My Daddy lived in Wolffork Valley, and while at the Rabun Gap Post Office one day, he saw Mama and asked her if he could give her a ride home.  She accepted and from that day on Daddy pursued Mama.  Since the Ice Cream social, I came home and re-read an album of letters from Dad to Mama.  He went to Pontiac, Michigan in 1929 to work the summer and fall at a large estate.  He wrote Mama many times.  In a letter dated 12/29/1929, after he returned home for the winter, he said..... "Mama wouldn't let me come down there to see you and I think I've sat in every chair we've got and some that we didn't have".   They wrote many letters, but in one dated April 21, 1930, he asked her to send him her ring size.  They were married in l931.  Mama told me before she died that Daddy drove all the way to Gainesville to buy her a pair of leather gloves for a gift and she still had them."  June 8th, Dad wrote, "While you are hoeing corn, you want to be careful and not get wet.  You might melt.  I know you are sweet." So, I guess the girls had to help in the fields also.

 In the same letter, he mentioned she had passed all of her exams and in the next letter said "I'd shore like to be there and see you hoeing corn.  I'll bet you cut down half the corn you had, trying to watch Mr. Dodd plow potatoes."

 In the winter of 1929 must have been when he went to see Mama and got stuck in the mud trying to get up to the house.  Uncle Wade said the Thurmond boys finally got him out, but someone put a potato in the exhaust pipe and the car would not start later.  In a 9/30/1930 letter he said, "Too bad the roads stay so bad, that you can't get out without getting stuck.  I know it isn't very pleasant to get stuck as I tried that last winter". 

I am thankful that the school allowed the Thurmond family to live on the school farm and it is a pleasure for me to have learned more about their life there and hear some of the stories from other families.”


 J. Harold Thurmond


Anne, Annette, William, Clarence and Harold Thurmond; School Farm 1953

I have many fond memories of my years on the school farm. From age six to thirteen I worked, roamed and daydreamed in one of God’s favorite places. Our tractors, Bob and Alec, had long ears and cranky dispositions. They normally resided in separate stalls in the barn but on two mornings after Halloween we had to chase them down because local tricksters thought it fun to turn them loose. Alec was a trickster also; he would back off a bit when teamed with Bob on the wagon. Bob would be pulling the whole load and Alec would strut alongside with his chains slack. He had to be constantly beat on to keep him pulling. Alec was deathly afraid of thunderstorms. One afternoon Dad was plowing corn with a thunderhead looming over Smokehouse Knob. A bolt of lighting flashed, thunder boomed and Alec dragged Dad to the end of the row. I held his head till Dad could unhitch the chains and tuck the reins in the harness. It started to rain as we turned Alec loose and he headed for the barn in a run. Along the creek bank he went to the wet, wooden bridge he had to cross. He made the sharp right turn, then disappeared from our sight when he slid off the bridge and fell eight feet into the creek. Dad and I had to stop running and laugh for a couple of minutes before we could go see about Alec. When we got to the bridge, Alec was standing in the creek, unhurt, thoroughly wet and thoroughly disgusted. Dad got into the creek, led him out and turned him loose again. He walked to the barn behind us as if to say; “What’s the use in running?”

William Thurmond, Ben Abernathy, son of Eloise Thurmond Abernathy, Harold Thurmond 1949

I caught my first trout off that same bridge. Dad was planting corn; William was keeping seed corn and fertilizer in the planter; I was playing in the dirt and the creek. I saw a good-size fish under the bridge and told Dad about it. He cut an alder pole from the creek bank, tied strings from fertilizer sacks together to make a line and fashioned a hook from a large brass staple that held the tag on a fertilizer bag. He gave the contraption to me saying to catch a grasshopper for bait. I did, impaled it on the “hook” and proceeded to catch a 14” rainbow trout before Dad made the next round. Dad was prouder than I was. I had fried trout for supper that night.

Clarence and Anne Thurmond 1952, at School Farm House

People who knew Dad would start talking to him just to hear him tell one of his tales. He was a good storyteller as were all his brothers. One of his favorites and mine concerned Uncle Bob Ritchie, brother to Andy who founded RGNS. At one time in the 1930s, Uncle Bob was in charge of the field crews. All the boys loved Uncle Bob, he treated them well, joked and laughed with them and listened when they had problems. Many of the boys smoked roll-your-owns, as did Uncle Bob. It seems that Uncle Bob never had any fixin’s with him and would always bum tobacco and paper from one particular young man who just happened to smoke the same brand as Uncle Bob. This went on for about two weeks until the young man discovered that Uncle Bob had a charge account at the general store in Dillard. From then on, when he needed tobacco and paper, he would go to the store, tell the clerk Uncle Bob had sent him for tobacco and paper, charge it to Uncle Bob and go on his merry way. Uncle Bob continued to bum fixin’s from the young man and thought the world of him because he never complained about the bumming.

I learned how to live on the school farm. The Farm Family community was family, family that pitched in to help each other in time of need, family that laughed and cried together, family that was enabled because of the vision of Andy Ritchie.


 Rabun Ramblings