A father in agriculture remembered

"Comeback" farmer Bill applied the skills learned through his ag classes at A.C. Jones High School from B.C. Davis.

Bill Cude used to say that his life may have spanned the greatest changes in the history of mankind—he was born in the horse and buggy days and lived to see a man walking on the moon, as well as the arrival of the computer age. I am happy to remember my dad for this Father’s Day column.

Since his family purchased their first automobile when Daddy was 4, he grew up learning excellent mechanical skills from his father. He understood how radios, telephones and televisions worked, but when it came to computers, Daddy had no clue. He was amazed that we could communicate so easily and quickly with far away friends and family through email, but he never owned – or wanted – a computer.

Daddy was born in the Viggo Community in 1917, and resided his almost-87 years within a mile of his birthplace. He and his five siblings attended the Viggo School near their home, where the enrollment ranged from 10-15 students in grades one through seven.

Our girls were impressed when their grandpa told them he was the best student in his class, until they asked him how many were in the class. “One,” he replied.

“Then, Grandpa,” one granddaughter pointed out, “You were also the worst student!”

The small country school had no athletic teams, but they competed with the other county schools in academics and took great pride in besting the “city kids.” At least once Daddy and his friend Roy Hardy brought home the county trophy for spelling.

When he went to Beeville for eighth grade, he enrolled in the new agriculture program, taught by B.C. Davis. The Future Farmers of America program provided excellent challenges for Bill. As a junior, he was named one of the 25 State Lone Star Farmers in Texas. And he earned honors in the FFA public speaking contests.

During his senior year, he not only served as the state FFA president, but was awarded his American Farmer degree at the Kansas City national convention, the first Beeville FFA student to achieve that honor. The Texas Agriculture Association named him the outstanding FFA boy in Texas at their convention in Dallas.

After he graduated in 1935, Daddy was planning to attend Texas A&I College (now Texas A&M Kingsville) to study law, but opted to stay home to help his family when his mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis. 

After selling radios for a few years, Bill decided to concentrate on farming, purchasing his first tractor in 1938. He began working his grandmother’s land in Viggo, scarred by huge gullies resulting from previous poor farming practices. Taking advantage of a government program, Bill had the land terraced, smoothing out the gullies. He planted it with legumes to restore the soil and used contour farming to maintain the new terraces.

When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Daddy had just purchased a used Massey-Ferguson tractor on credit. He told the draft board that he needed to harvest one crop to pay off his debt. However, since farming was considered essential for the war effort, Bill was deferred from military service.

In 1955, Bill was recognized as the best “Comeback” farmer by the Karnes County Soil Conservation District for his conservation farming. 

When the Bee County Farm Bureau was organized in the 1940s, Bill was one of the early directors, helping recruit new members. He worked tirelessly with the Farm Bureau-sponsored Bee County Junior Livestock and Homemakers’ Show, and he always helped with the annual barbecue and queen contest.

However, Daddy’s crowning achievement came in 1984, when, as Farm Bureau County Affairs Director, he was successful in getting Bee County’s unitary road system approved by voters—then, a couple of years later, worked to defeat the effort to recall it.

When gasoline prices spiked in the late 1970s, Bill hated the increase in his gasoline bill for hauling crops to market with his large Ford pickup. He purchased a used Toyota, cut it in half behind the cab, lengthened the frame, installed a second transmission in series with the first and replaced the inadequate rear axle with a heavy-duty axle unit recovered from an older truck.

When Bill arrived at the grain elevator with his first trailer-load, weighing 13,000 pounds, the workers looked at the Toyota and said, “Why, that won’t pull it up on the ramp.” Bill replied, “We’ll just have to try it and see.” He put the modified pickup in its lowest gear, and it crawled up the ramp easier than the big grain trucks.

Daddy believed in education. When I was about 6, he pointed out a young heifer in his herd and told me that she was going to send me to college. The money from every one of her calves went into my scholarship fund, even when, during the devastating 1950s drought, I’m sure my parents could have used that money. 

Bill served three terms on the BISD school board while my sister and I were in school and never missed an activity in which we were involved. When my mother died in 1986, Daddy set up the Mary Nancy Chesnutt Cude Scholarship Fund for women at then Bee County College. He also set up scholarship funds for all his grandchildren.

In November of 2004, the state Farm Bureau posthumously recognized Bill with a Pioneer Award, in honor of his pioneering leadership and exceptional service to the Texas Farm Bureau and to agriculture.

I think he also deserves an award for being an outstanding father, grandfather and community member, always putting others ahead of himself. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!

Recommended for you