Whitehouse honored for his service to agriculture

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By Stephen Lega

Tom Whitehouse changes gears of his truck as it climbs the steep hill on his property. As he does this, he insists that his visitor should see the view before he leaves.

Once they reach the peak, he points out the Ball farm, where he farmed more than 40 years ago, the Loretto water tower and Scott's Ridge. Whitehouse, 74, knows being a farmer hasn't always been easy, but it's safe to say that he's enjoyed what he's seen on the farm that he and his wife, Theresa, have called home for 33 years.

"It's long hours and hard work," Whitehouse said, "but it's a good life."

But he's also been more than a farmer during the past four decades. He's worked on behalf of the agricultural community in Marion County.

Those years of service and sacrifice were recognized recently by the Marion County Farm Bureau, which presented Whitehouse with its 2008 Service to Agriculture award. He knew a few weeks before the annual awards program that he'd been nominated for the award, but he was still surprised when they announced his name.

"I was very pleased that they thought enough of me to pick me," he said.

Gene Lanham, who remembers running around with Whitehouse when they were both teenagers, nominated him for the award. Lanham said Whitehouse has devoted himself to helping the farming community.

"He was always putting the needs of the [agricultural] industry ahead of anything personal for him," Lanham said.

Whitehouse's service began in 1971, when he was asked to join the board of directors of the Marion County Farm Bureau. Four years later, he was elected vice-president, a position he held for 10 years.

Whitehouse was raised on a farm in Marion County, although he tried a few other things in his younger days.

He was working for the L&N Railroad when he married Theresa 55 years ago. In 1954, Whitehouse was laid off. He then took jobs at Southern States and General Electric before deciding to take up farming full-time in 1961. Coincidentally, L&N called him around that time to see if he'd like his old job back.

"I didn't go back," Whitehouse said. "I'd already started farming."

For a while, he worked as a 50/50 tenant farmer on the Arthur Ball farm. Later Whitehouse would go on to have his own operation. He and Theresa have lived on the same farm since 1975.

"We'd started a family and we figured the farm was the best place to raise a family, which it was," Whitehouse said.

He may not keep as busy as he once did, but Whitehouse is still giving back to the community.

Pat Spalding is the executive director of the Marion County FSA and he's known Whitehouse for almost a decade. Whitehouse is in his second term as a member of the FSA's county committee.

"He's been very community service minded," Spalding said.

The county committee makes decisions regarding a variety of programs for local farmers. Spalding said Whitehouse's years of experience are invaluable when making those decisions.

"If you've been there and done that, you kind of know what it's like," Spalding said.

But Whitehouse's service to agriculture hasn't been limited to farm organizations.

He also served a term as a county magistrate before he became the county road supervisor in September of 1985. He held that position until January of 2000.

Many people may not realize how important good roads are to agriculture, Spalding said.

"In today's world, you'd be surprised how many tractor-trailers run to the country," he said.

Lanham agreed with Spalding that Whitehouse's work as the road supervisor was extremely important to Marion County farmers.

"He knew the needs of the rural people and farm-to-market roads," Lanham said.

Whitehouse's service also extends to his faith community at Stewart's Creek Baptist Church, where he is also the senior deacon. Whitehouse downplays his position, however.

"All that tells you is you are getting older," he said.

Whitehouse has attributed his successes to the support he has received from his wife and his six children: Michael, Terry, Donna, Kathy, Tony and Trina.

"We couldn't have done this without the children's help," he said.

He added that they provided the help that kept the farm running, and they worked hard to do so.

At different times, Whitehouse has raised tobacco and dairy cattle, although today he raises beef cattle and hay. Nowadays, he spends most of his time on the farm, watching over his cattle.

"I don't move like I used to," Whitehouse said. "You get my age, it's time to think about quitting, but I don't want to do that."