Charles Grimes: Farmer, teacher, mentor
Southern Ohio farmer a wealth of knowledge,
experience on the farm and in the classroom
By CARLY TAMBORSKI
It’s a cold, quiet February morning.
The fields lining Grimes Road are barren, nothing but grass lightly covered in the falling snow.
A quarter mile down the drive sits a house, isolated, amongst the quietness of it all. The main portion is red brick, clearly an addition onto the small, historic white home in front of it.
I knock on the door, nervous to meet the local man I had heard so much about. His wife, Nancy, answers.
I am at Maplecrest Farm.
We exchange cheery introductions as she leads me into the toasty house, to a big, brown leather sofa in their living room where Charles Grimes, 80, sits.
It’s uncertain how much time I’ll have with this man, and seeing that I am new to the area and don’t know him like the long-term residents do, I ask him to start from the beginning.
Without even knowing him, I can feel he’s about to tell me a great story.
“This is my home — the front part over here is where we were born, my brother and I,” Charles says, nodding toward the old, white structure in the front. “I’m the fourth generation to live here, and when my kids take over this they’ll be the fifth generation to have lived here.”
Hard work, the pursuit of education, family values and a little bit of luck are what led Charles to be one of the most interesting and successful farmers in the area: to be the founder of what is now a nationally known Angus breeding operation while climbing the ranks of local education is certainly a feat unmatched by any other local.
The couple lives in Adams County, but back when Charles was in school the area was part of Byrd Rural School District, in Decatur.
“When I was in high school, there was everything here on the farm,” Charles says. “We had hogs, we had chickens, we had the dairy cows, the beef cows. Very self-sustaining.”
Nancy joins us as she sits on another sofa in the room.
“It was very diversified,” Nancy says.
“While I was in high school, I had the Jersey cattle and so I spent quite a bit of time in the summer showing the cattle, you know, showing the Jerseys,” Charles says.
He was also in 4-H.
“I showed at the Brown County Fair — that was my home fair — but I also showed in Adams County and Scioto County and Pike County,” Charles says.
“And the state fair,” Nancy adds.
Nancy is clearly meant to be his other half, I think.
“I graduated from Byrd Rural in 1950 and went to Ohio State,” Charles says.
He was a dairy science major.
“It’s what I wanted to do: I was the first one in the family to really assume the cattle,” Charles says. “I did get involved in the university 4-H as well as the Dairy Science Club. I was a member of the dairy cattle judging team — my senior year my team won the national contest.”
“He scored the highest in the judging contest,” Nancy says.
I smile at how proud she is.
Shortly thereafter, Charles graduated from Ohio State in 1954.
“Because of that [contest] I got a scholarship to do graduate work,” Charles says. “But there was an interference because in 1954, in that spring, I was set to go to Denmark on the International Farm Youth Exchange Program — we called it ‘iffy’ for short. And that’s where I met Nancy — she’s a Kansas gal.”
They smile at each other.
For being 80 years old, he is as sharp as a tack, throwing out dates and telling short stories with details as if they happened yesterday — it’s amazing. I rarely can remember what I eat for breakfast hours later.
Charles was in Denmark for about a year, from 1954 to 1955, and graduated in June of 1955. The following month, he enlisted in the Air Force and served two years.
“I went through four years of ROTC at Ohio State,” Charles says. “So because I had four years of ROTC I was allowed to enlist in the Air Force for just two years — usually it was three or four.”
He was stationed in the United States and was never deployed.
You could say everything happens for a reason.
When he got out of the Air Force in 1957, he enrolled at the University of Illinois where he earned his Master’s degree in Agriculture for being a dairy science major.
“We got married in ’58,” Nancy says.
“I was in grad school at the time,” Charles says. “I was in grad school for about a year and a half, two years.”
We talk for a bit about how long the two had been “going steady.”
When Charles finished his Master’s degree at the University of Illinois, he and Nancy returned to his family’s home and he planned on being a dairy farmer.
“My dad had passed away while I was in the Air Force and our dairy herd was fairly small at that time,” Charles says.
Hard work and life experiences had brought him this far, and he was preparing to grow the herd.
That’s when luck came knocking.
“I would say, oh, the summer of ’59, Hugh Balridge — he was the superintendent at West Union Schools before the consolidation — he came knocking on my door and wanted to know if I would be interested in teaching science,” Charles says.
I’m immediately intrigued and happy for his 54-years-ago self.
“I think that’s an unusual situation, how he got started in teaching,” Nancy says. “Can you imagine somebody coming to your door to offer you a job? Teachers today, you have to search first.”
“I accepted it,” Charles says.
But the gesture required additional work — Charles majored in dairy science, not education.
“I think it’s kind of interesting they offered him the job,” Nancy said. “If you realize that he had his Bachelor’s degree and his Master’s degree in dairy science — he didn’t have his education courses.”
Charles went to Wilmington College to get his teaching license. His first year of teaching he taught on a temporary certificate while taking education courses at Wilmington College.
Whiles Charles was teaching at West Union, he started taking education classes at Ohio University — Portsmouth. Then he spent two summers at Ohio University — Athens.
“I did enough course work to get a second Master’s but I had to write a thesis and so forth and I just wasn’t that much interested,” Charles says.
“But he had enough courses that he could’ve had it,” Nancy adds.
Initially, Charles had no problem balancing his career in education with his career in farming.
“There really wasn’t any problem that first year because we had signed a two-year visa for a young man from Denmark to come to the United States with the understanding that he would stay with us for the year and then he’d have a year to do what he wanted to do,” Charles says. “So that first year, he did the milking, and of course I just helped on the farm when I wasn’t at school.”
Then things got tricky.
“So he left after the first year, and then I hired local people to do the milking but that didn’t work out because sometimes they didn’t show,” Charles says. “After the first year I decided that I either had to sell the dairy cows, or quit teaching.”
Charles decided to sell the dairy cows.
“We were probably milking about 20 cows at that time,” Charles says. “That wasn’t enough cows to run a full-time dairy farm.”
So he sold the dairy cows and then bought one Angus, which slowly grew to a few Angus cattle, which his niece and nephew showed.
“Then my own kids started showing Angus females and crossbred steers, and so we were just, you know, a small herd, limited farming. My mother always regretted that, she wished I had kept the dairy cows — my work with education came first.”
Charles taught at West Union for four years, from 1959–1963, then he went to Manchester and was the principal there from 1963–1973.
Then a second knock came.
“I had wanted to move on from Adams County Schools, but the Good Lord, it’s in his time,” Charles says. “But it wasn’t much longer before Superintendent Yockey came knocking on my door and asked if I would consider being the principal at Eastern.”
After Charles accepted the job at Eastern, he and Nancy moved from Manchester back to his family’s farm.
Their kids also started showing locally around 1970.
The couple has four children: John, Joan, David, Jennifer. Interestingly, John followed in his dad’s agricultural footsteps and Jennifer is now the principal at Eastern High School.
David is now an attorney in private practice in the West Union area and Joan is also in education and is the Pre-K supervisor for the Brown County Educational Service Center in Georgetown.
“It’s interesting how things work out because that summer, the summer of ’73, I was renting this farm then to somebody else,” Charles says. “I thought we were just going to move out to the farm for the summer.”
But once that second knock came, Charles decided to stay on the family farm.
Charles was a principal at the Eastern Local School District from 1973–1978 when the school board asked if he would like to move from principal to superintendent, a position he accepted and held from 1978–1987.
In all, he spent about 13 years working in Adams County and 14 years in Brown County.
And throughout his educational career, Charles still maintained the farm with his older brother, Earl.
“My brother and I both worked off the farm,” Charles says. “On a limited scale, we kept the farm going. We had a small herd of cattle, beef cattle at that time.”
Charles and his brother kept the farm on this limited scale until he retired in 1987.
“After that, we expanded the operation and the kids showed more,” Charles says. “My kids got into showing in a big way and so I kept active with the herd from ’87 until, oh, about 10 years ago, in 2003,” Charles said. “Then I turned the cattle operation over to John. I got out of it.”
His retirement was greatly due to growing health problems, which he has been battling for the last 11 years.
“And when I hit 70, I thought, well, I’ve done this long enough, and turned it over to John,” Charles says.
John became involved in a big way.
“It’s been interesting because John’s expanded the herd, he’s become the state beef specialist for extension, and their children have continued to show and done well at the national level, very active,” Nancy says.
The Grimes feed out about 15 steers a year, but the farm is mainly a breeding operation. Every year, John sells some of the cattle off, but they do feed out a few steers every year to sell to people locally for slaughter.
In fact, Maplecrest Farm is having an inaugural bull sale 7 p.m. Monday, March 11 at the Union Stock Yards in Hillsboro. A high attendance rate is predicted since the herd is nationally recognized.
But to get from where the farm was to where it is now definitely took effort from the whole family.
“To think what we started on was just our small family farm operation and that it has bloomed to the significant herding of state and national level,” Charles says.
Although Charles and his brother started fresh with one Angus cattle back in the ‘70s, by the time Charles retired they had about 70–80 heads of cattle.
The farm grew as well: Charles and Nancy first lived on the 200-acre family farm, but the Grimes later acquired a 75-acre farm down the road that belonged to Charles’ grandfather. He later bought the 125-acre farm in between his farm and his grandfather’s old farm, making their current total around 400 acres.
Their daughter, Jennifer, now lives in the home on the 75-acre portion.
Charles comments on what I saw on the drive in.
“All the land, it’s solely grass — cows running around everywhere,” Charles says. “Everything’s in grass now either for hay or for pasture. We don’t do any crop farming.”
John does not come to the family farm every day, but has hired three farm hands to conduct the work. Charles estimates that John has about 300 heads of cattle — some on his farm in Decatur, and some on John’s farm in Belfast.
Even after he retired, Charles remained active in education. About eight years after he retired as superintendent in 1987, he was on the Eastern Local Schools Board of Education.
Throughout the conversation, Charles has been very modest, smiling shyly yet proudly when Nancy discusses his accomplishments.
There’s a lot to be said for someone who can balance two careers — especially when they’re so different but both very time consuming.
I wonder out loud what it was like to balance his two careers in teaching and farming — they’re lifestyles, really.
“It all depends on the school you’re at and how much farming you want to try and do, because my brother and I took care of the cattle together,” Charles says. “For about two years we tried to raise tobacco and found out that that was just too much so we quit raising tobacco and rented it out.”
Charles tells me another short story and it becomes clear to me just the type of person he is: someone who chose a happy country life of hard work instead of being a suit who climbed the ranks of the educational ladder for higher pay.
“The interesting thing is, while I was at OU, one of my professors said there was an opening at Heath up in Licking County, which has a pretty wealthy district,” Charles says, almost secretively. “He said ‘they have an opening up there, would you be interested in going up there? I can speak for you?’ And I said ‘no, I’d rather come back here because I want to raise the kids on the farm.’ I took what jobs became available, which worked out better for all of us.”
But after 80 years, and on this day, Maplecrest looks a lot like Charles: a quiet power, successful, and holding many good stories. Taking his health problems into consideration, I hand him the reigns and ask what he would like the moral of his own story to be.
“You can start small and accomplish whatever you want if you work hard enough for it,” Charles said. “That’s in education — I just started as a teacher and retired 28 years later and I was local superintendent and it was the same way with farming: we started with one Angus heifer and kept gradually increasing the herd. The herd is recognized nationally now.”
Now that his story has reached the present day, we talk about our generations and the differences between them — mainly that people today seem so much more materialistic and unwilling to work hard for what they want — and he gives me one last piece of advice.
“The thing is, you just got to think of things above, of Heaven, instead of these earthly things,” Charles says. “Because it’ll be a lot better world up there than it is here.”
(Carly Tamborski is a reporter for the News Democrat and Ripley Bee, located in Brown County.)