Homegrown farmer maintains lifestyle all these years

Arbovale farmer Arlene Rexrode receives the 2013 Woman in Agriculture award from West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick. The ceremony was held last summer at the West Virginia State Fair. Photo courtesy of the State Agriculture Department
Arbovale farmer Arlene Rexrode receives the 2013 Woman in Agriculture award from West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick. The ceremony was held last summer at the West Virginia State Fair. Photo courtesy of the State Agriculture Department

Winning two awards, back-to-back – the first, 2012 West Virginia Conservation Farmer in the Greenbrier Valley Conservation District and the second, 2013 West Virginia Woman in Agriculture – Arbovale resident Arlene Rexrode has fuel to make her head swell. But she doesn’t let it. She stays the modest farmer she has always been.

Arlene’s story begins in 1928, just a stone’s throw away from her current home and farm on Pine Grove Road in Arbovale.

Growing up on a farm, Arlene learned to work at a young age.

“My golly, Ned, I hoed corn, hoed potatoes and we even chopped hay,” she recalled. “[My sister] Mary and I, them forks were bigger than we were – trying to build hay shocks. I’ve always farmed, all my life.”

Arlene’s future husband, Hubert, had the same kind of childhood. Living on a farm in the next hollow over, he, too, learned to farm not far from where he and Arlene raised their family.
The couple met in school, the former Pine Grove School which is now the Pine Grove Church of the Brethren.

“We would walk up through here,” Arlene said. “I walked up right by this house to go to school never thinking one of these days I might be living here. It was the last thing on my mind.”

After Hubert graduated, the couple got married and he got a job at the Cass Mill. Arlene got her GED in order to run the farm.

“I lacked two years of school so Mr. [Virgil] Harris, bless his heart, not very many people would do this. I signed up for American School and he said, ‘you’ll be taking that from now on. You’ll never get your diploma from that. You can take the GED test.’ He said, ‘I’ll give you fifty dollars to send you to Elkins.’”

Arlene took Harris’ generous offer and took the two-day test in one day, receiving her diploma.

“Otherwise, I would’ve probably never gotten it,” she said.

The couple settled into a small home near the farm they later purchased. Soon, Moro Beard, of Green Bank, asked them to move onto his farm to take care of his land and cattle.

“That’s how we got started here,” Arlene said. “We moved over here in 1949, but we didn’t buy it until 1972.

“We fed his cattle. He had fifty-two head of cattle. We had at least three hundred dollars in labor from feeding. That was our rent to live here.”

The farm flourished, as did the family. Two daughters, Becky and Starlet, were added to the family. Arlene raised the girls, and cattle and hay, while Hubert rose in the ranks at Howe’s Tannery in Bartow.

“He worked so hard at the tannery and I worked here on the farm,” Arlene said. “I would have all the hay mowed down and raked when he got home from the tannery so we could get this place paid for. Working at the tannery he didn’t make that much money. Bless his heart, working that way, we got it paid for.”

When the family bought the present farm from Beard in 1972, they also purchased his cattle, keeping everything the way it had always been.

The couple settled into their routine until Hubert retired in 1994 as superintendent of Howe’s Leather. A year later, he passed away.

Keeping it together, Arlene maintained the farm with help from friends. William Vandevander assisted her for two years, then Mike Kane and his son, John Michael, took over as farm hands.

“I was getting older and Mike Kane came over here,” Arlene said. “He didn’t know anything about it but he helped out. He got rid of the Coke plant in Elkins and he’s been here ever since. We couldn’t do without John Michael. He mows and bales the hay. Mike does all the feeding for me.”

Arlene has kept the farm the same size, with 52 head of Hereford and Black Angus cattle.

In recognition of all her hard work through the years, Arlene was awarded West Virginia Conservation Farmer for the Greenbrier Valley Conservation District in 2012. Then, shortly after, she found out she was a finalist for the 2013 West Virginia Woman in Agriculture award.

“I was called and was told I was elected to be a Woman in Agriculture,” she recalled. “I wrote two things, two questions they asked me. It was quite an honor. I had to write that to let them choose if I was someone worth choosing. I was well pleased.”

Arlene was joined by her daughter, Becky, and her husband, Clyde McCarty, at the awards ceremony at the West Virginia State Fair last summer.

With two awards under her belt, Arlene doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon.

“I had a birthday the sixth of January,” she said. “I’m eight-six years old. No one thinks I’m that old. I keep active.”

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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