Laura Dean Bennett
Lawrence “Skeeter” Workman is now the patriarch – the proud father and grandfather of one of the county’s oldest farming families.
Skeeter and his wife, Nora McNeel Workman, their two children and six grandchildren have deep roots in Pocahontas County.
Their combined farms – all located in the Hillsboro area – are known as Workman Farms.
There are now three generations of Workman men working the family’s farms, with a history of five generations of Workmans and eight generations of McNeels behind them.
Colonel John McNeel was the original 18th century settler in the Little Levels.
Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather before him, Skeeter, son of Jim and Edith Workman, has continued the family’s farming legacy – building a family and a farming business of which any father would be proud.
“We farm well over 2,000 acres,” Skeeter said.
“We graze cattle – predominantly black angus or angus cross. I think angus finish better – they get to choice grade faster than other breeds,” he explained.
“We have about 600 heifers and steers and 50 breeding cows.
“And we raise hay.”
Asked about his nickname, Skeeter admits many people probably don’t even know that his given name is Lawrence.
“When I was a toddler, one of my cousins started calling me Skeeter, and it just stuck,” he said.
Skeeter must have always been destined to be a father – he jumped into fatherhood with both feet.
He and Nora got married right out of high school, started their family right away and headed off to Glenville State College, where Skeeter would pursue his business degree.
“We were young and foolish enough when we got married, that we didn’t have any idea that it might be hard,” he laughed.
The couple got married at Nora’s family home on the McNeel farm in 1965.
“There might have been a few people who speculated that it wouldn’t work out – because we were awfully young,” Skeeter admitted.
But it seems that things worked out pretty well.
“Our 55th anniversary is coming up,” Skeeter said, proudly.
Their daughter, Terri, was an infant and then a toddler when he was working on his degree.
Although they were teen-age parents, Skeeter and Nora took parenthood in stride, although it wasn’t always easy.
“It was a learning experience, but we all survived it,” Skeeter quipped.
After graduation, Skeeter and Nora moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, when he took a job as a business teacher and football coach at Queen Anne’s County High School in Centerville, Maryland.
“We made some lifelong friends there in Maryland, and we enjoyed living there,” Skeeter said.
But Skeeter and Nora wanted to come back home, and so they did.
After a year of working for State Farm Insurance, Skeeter got two jobs he loved – teaching a business class – teaching typing, as Skeeter puts it – and being the assistant football coach at Pocahontas County High School.
Besides coaching high school football as assistant until just this past year, Skeeter coached middle school basketball and football, as well.
“I like working with young people,” he said. “You get to influence them and teach them how to work and play with honor.
“I think young people are faced with more challenges and temptations than I was when I was growing up on the river,” he said, thoughtfully.
“I always tell them to believe in the Lord and do the right thing.”
Skeeter and Nora and their family have always been very active in the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church.
He’s a lay speaker at the church, getting called on to preach for his home congregation and a few other Presbyterian churches around the area on Sundays when the regular ministers can’t make it.
Skeeter taught his children, who are, in turn, teaching their children to have a rigorous work ethic and to go to church.
“There was no sleeping in or hanging around when we were kids,” Terri recalls.
“On Sunday, we got up and went to church. Unless there was something pretty important already scheduled for that day, we were in church.
“And Matt and I raised our families the same way,” she added.
Terri and her husband, Tim Helmick, have three grown children of their own – two sons, Isaac and Nick, and a daughter, Sarah.
Terri’s brother, Matt, and their dad have been farming together for many years – ever since Matt was young.
Eight years after Terri was born, Matt came along.
“I was so crazy about having a baby brother,” Terri said.
“One of Matt’s first words was ‘tractor,’” she remembers.
“Matt was just always obsessed with farming.
“Even as a little boy, when he was two or three years old, that’s all he wanted to do – play at being a farmer.
“It was just in his blood. He was always my dad’s sidekick.
“He was always like that – even as he got older, he’d rather hang out with Dad than his friends.
“It was nothing but farming – well, farming and football – for Matt.
“And it’s the same for Wyatt. Its Grandad and Dad and farming and football,” she added.
“One of the best things about it is that we get to see each other every day,” Matt said.
When Matt and his wife, Dawn McLaughlin, got married, they lived in Harrisonburg, Virginia. They moved back when Matt was 20 years old, and Skeeter and Matt began farming together in earnest.
“I feel like we get along really well,” Matt said. “He always lets me try out my ideas and make changes where I want to.
Matt’s 21 year old son, Wyatt, is attending Glenville State, pursuing a degree in Business.
Because of Covid -19, he’s been home from college since March.
“He finished his junior year online,” Skeeter said. “He’d usually just be here during vacations, but with this virus, he’s been here since March. So it’s been the three of us farming together.
“It’s been a blessing having him here, because we cover a lot of territory.”
Wyatt remembers his dad’s parenting style focusing on dedication and hard work and “teaching us lessons on the farm,” he said.
“I won’t say I never got disciplined,” Wyatt admitted. “Dad made sure he got his point across.
“Lying was one of his pet peeves.
“He always said, ‘Just always tell the truth.’
“I guess maybe I get my sense of humor from my dad and my granddad. We work pretty hard, but we still make time for jokes,” Wyatt said with a smile.
“And Papaw always tries to teach us to be careful and to be smart.
“A few months ago, Dad, Papaw and I were in a pen with a 1,400 pound steer. We were fixing some fence.
“Well, this steer was just wanting to play around with us, but he was too big to be doing that.
“Dad’s back was turned and that steer started going after him, and Dad had to get him away, then the steer turned and was chasing me. It was all right, and we didn’t get hurt, but when we looked around, there was Papaw, standing on top of the water trough, out of harm’s way, with a big smile on his face.
“That’s what I love about farming.
“There’s always something to keep you on your toes.
“Next year, after I graduate from Glenville with my business degree, I’ll be back on the farm full time.
“And the sooner the better,” Wyatt added.
“I love working with my dad and Papaw. It’s a blessing.
“We get along real well. Farming with them is the best thing. Farming is a good way to live. I don’t plan on ever leaving. I can’t imagine any other life.
“I’m going to raise my family here one day, too.
“Farming’s not a job, it’s more like a lifestyle.
“I’m pretty lucky. A lot of people don’t get to spend every single day with their family, hearing what they have to say.
“I’ve heard Papaw tell the same story 50 times – and it’s still interesting every single time.”
Skeeter just celebrated his 73rd birthday and Nora gifted him with a record player – probably a novelty to the younger members of the family, but something that brought back a lot of memories for Skeeter.
“When we were doing a lot of housecleaning during “quarantine,” we came across some old records from the 60s and 70s,” he said.
“I always loved music and country and gospel especially. Charley Pride was my favorite. And I loved the Statler Brothers, Lorrie Morgan and Anne Murray, too.
“Anyway, I guess finding those old records gave Nora the idea to get us a record player, so we could play those records again,” he said.
When Terri thinks about her childhood, she remembers her dad as always being calm.
“I never saw him flustered or unable to handle a situation,” she said.
“He had a steadfast, ‘do the right thing’ mentality and he instilled a lot of wisdom in us.
“He always had a lot of sayings – he’d quote the Golden Rule -‘ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’
“And another one I remember was, ‘Pain builds character.’
“Our farming family history is a beautiful legacy,” she said proudly. “I don’t know if it’s an age thing – but I seem to be more appreciative of it and more nostalgic about it now.”
Matt agrees that his family’s farming legacy is a source of pride.
“Our family is all about farming and each other,” he said.
Matt’s wife, Dawn, loves that they were able to raise their children in a farming family.
“I think living and raising our kids on the family farm has been the best experience for our kids growing up,” she said.
“During normal times, we all like to get together for a cookout at Matt’s house on the Denmar Road farm,” Skeeter said.
He remembers Father’s Day was always a time for getting together, usually for a cookout.
Skeeter says he doesn’t remember too many bad Father’s Day gifts, although Matt says he may have given his dad a few ugly ties over the years, but thinks he usually went for something more practical.
When they want to get away from the farm for a little R&R, Skeeter and Nora don’t have to travel too far.
They can just take their camper to nearby Watoga State Park for a little relaxation in the shady forest.
Holidays are usually spent with their extended family and or family friends.
Last year for Father’s Day, the Workman clan went to dinner at Elk River.
This year, they might have opted for a cookout at home, but things are different.
“I don’t know if we’ll all be getting together this year – we’re being careful because of the virus,” Skeeter said.
But, according to Wyatt, that’s okay with these dyed-in-the-wool farmers.
If they can’t be celebrating Father’s Day by unwrapping ties or manning the grill, the Workman men will at least be doing something they love.
“I’d say we’ll be in the hayfield,” Wyatt said.
And he wasn’t joking.