I’ve met many people since I started at Farm and Dairy — people whose stories I have been privileged to tell, people who didn’t think they did anything extraordinary, but whose ordinary lives fill our communities with kindness, strength, and wisdom.
There are many whose stories I have not written, and there are those whose stories I’m not sure I’m qualified to tell.
Don Rupert is one of those individuals. I met Don after he had retired from milking cows. But I soon learned the Columbiana County farmer had legions of followers in the Jersey breed — dairymen who admired his progressive breeding strategies and determination to draw attention to the dams in great cow families, and not just the sires. To Don, the cow never received the credit she deserved.
And so I shouldn’t have been surprised when Don, who will turn 95 Dec. 14, and his son, Mark, visited me this summer with a thick, spiral-bound book. It is the Rupert story, written mostly by Don with selections by his children and grandchildren. But it is not Don’s story about his life of farming. It is a story about Grace Rupert, the woman who stood by his side until her death Oct. 4, 2004, and never received the credit she deserved.
It is a love story no one could write but him.
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The pair met in study hall at Fairfield High School (Grace was a year ahead of Don) and became sweethearts in her senior year. But that was in 1930 and the Depression hit Grace’s family hard, and her father lost the family farm. They moved into a crude home with a dirt floor and Grace, an A student, gave up all hope of attending college.
But an aunt and uncle intervened and took Grace into their Ravenna home in exchange for her work in their home and with their young sons. Another aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania also helped with money for tuition and books at Kent State University. With a teaching certificate in hand after two years, she faced a dismal job market, so she moved in with her Pennsylvania relatives until returning home at 22 to care for her parents and two younger siblings.
Don and Grace started dating in the fall of 1935 while Don was working on the family farm to earn enough money to finish his senior year at Ohio State. But, Don writes, “I had no money for marriage. … and when we were first dating, there was no talk of it.”
It took four years, but they finally got around to talking about it, and married on May 21, 1939.
Interestingly, the Rupert farm near New Waterford — the first in Ohio to install a pipeline milking parlor — was profiled in the national farm magazine, Successful Farming in May 1939, with a cover photograph of Don’s father, brother Raymond and Don leaning against a farm wagon.
“I received a number of marriage proposals from young ladies living in the Dust Bowl states of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas,” Don writes. “I did not answer any of them. Grace did not think it was necessary.”
Grace taught third grade until she got married, then she and Don started their family, raising four daughters and one son. In the late 1950s, when Mark, the youngest, was about start first grade, the local school superintendent came to visit Grace, asking her to start the district’s first kindergarten. She refused, but a subsequent family meeting and vote pushed her back into the classroom.
She shared her work ethic, fun spirit and unconditional love with her students until retiring in 1973, and even then, she organized a preschool at their church. Don’s book includes a section of classroom memories that Grace wrote in 2000.
In their retirement, the Ruperts traveled, but never lost their sense of lifelong learning and adventure, participating in 17 Elderhostel trips.
It’s impossible to retell the stories that fill 145 pages in Don’s book, The Story of Grace. But I was touched by the devotion of a farmer and his wife, overcoming poverty and finding great riches in friends, family and the world around them. And the linchpin to that story was Grace.
Her devotion continues. In December 1938, the Christmas before they were married, Grace and Don decided to give each other something that be a lasting contribution to their new lives as husband and wife. Don spent a considerable amount of money at the time to buy a sewing machine and cabinet — an investment that paid handsomely through the years, thanks to Grace’s talent as a seamstress.
But Don says Grace’s 1938 Christmas gift continues to share her love — she gave him a lifetime subscription to the Reader’s Digest. That $25 gift has lasted more than 70 years.
“Can you match that for a bargain?” Don writes. “I can! In fact, I can beat it! I married the lady who made the bargain!”