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Wilson County Ag Hall of Fame to induct six

Staff Reports • Dec 15, 2015 at 2:43 PM

The annual Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame Banquet will be April 1 with a reception at 6:00 p.m. and the banquet at 6:30 p.m. at the Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon. 

Area FFA and 4-H members will serve as ushers for the evening.   

The following individuals will be part of the eighth class of inductees into the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame:

• Raymond and JoAnn Evans: Raymond Evans was born in Gladeville. He graduated from Lebanon High School in 1947 and was a member of the FFA throughout high school.   

Raymond Evans started farming while in high school. He raised goats, sheep, hogs and started a herd of dairy cattle.  

Jo Ann Lassiter graduated from White House High School in 1956 and went on to graduate from Martin Methodist College in 1958.  

She worked for National Life Insurance until shortly after she and Raymond were married in March 1968. Together, they continued to operate a dairy farm until April 1976 when they decided to sell the dairy herd and start raising beef cattle, tobacco and truck farming; at times, they raised as many as 7,000 tomato plants. 

They joined the Nashville Food Fairs, a group of farmers who sell their produce at different churches throughout the greater Nashville area, and remained members for more than 33 years. 

Raymond Evans was elected president of the “Food Fairs” four times. During the time he was milking, he was a Kraft Patron, a member of the Nashville Grade-A Milk Producers and president of the Young Farmers and Homemakers. He was also a longtime member of the Wilson County Livestock Association, longtime member of the Tennessee Fur Harvesters Association, member of the Wilson County Soil Commission and was in the movie, “Billy Graham: The Early Years.”  

Jo Ann Evans was a fulltime farmer and homemaker. She was a champion of the four children and Southside Elementary School. She enjoyed volunteering in every capacity during the years her children attended Southside and served as the PTO treasurer for many years, even after the youngest had moved on to high school. 

Jo Ann Evans exhibited her giving spirit by sharing her knowledge with second graders at Farm Day for several years. She and Raymond Evans were members of Gladeville United Methodist Church for many years with Jo Ann Evans teaching Sunday School classes almost every Sunday until her death in August 2009.

• James C. Johnson: James C. Johnson was born in Albany, Ky. in 1895. He attended Berea College in Kentucky and Milligan College in Elizabethton before he began his first career as a schoolteacher. 

He taught school in Pickett and Trousdale counties before moving to Wilson County. In 1919, he married Maggie Piercey of the Centerville community in Wilson County. When their only child, daughter, Margaret, was young; Johnson moved his family to the Taylorsville community, where he began a teaching job at Taylorsville School.  

There, he began farming, growing tobacco and vegetables, and raised a few head of cattle. As livestock farming took hold in the Middle Tennessee area in the 1930s, Johnson saw a need for area farmers to be able to buy and sell their animals locally.    

With a business partner, he opened the Wilson County Livestock Market and went on to start similar ventures in Hartsville, Lafayette and Cookeville. Although he eventually sold his interest in the markets, the Lebanon market was always a special place to him. In fact, he continued to visit the “sale barn” regularly right up until the time of his death in 1990.  

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Johnson worked for Commerce Union Bank (now Bank of America) as a farm appraiser. He was an active supporter of 4-H cattle shows, and one of his proudest moments in that arena came in 1961 when his grandson showed a grand champion steer at the Wilson County 4-H Livestock Show. 

His belief in the investment value of pastureland for livestock farming led Johnson to start a real estate company with partner Billy Hobbs. Their firm, Johnson and Hobbs Real Estate, specialized in farm properties and was one of Lebanon’s leading real estate auction firms in the 1960s and ’70s. Johnson served as Wilson County trustee from 1944-46, and later as an alderman for the vity of Lebanon in the early 1960s.  

He was a member of the Lebanon Lions Club, Wilson County Sportsman’s Club and College Street Church of Christ. He was one of the owners of Wilson County Fairgrounds when it was on Coles Ferry Pike, and served as president of the Wilson County Fair Association for several years in the late-1960s and 1970s.  

• Ed Rice Sr. and Ed Rice Jr.: Ed Rice Sr. was born in 1913, and he grew up on a farm in Mt. Juliet. He attended Mt. Juliet High School, where he was president of his senior class, graduating in 1931. 

After graduation, he went to work for his Uncle Edd Hunter in his country store on Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet. The store was built in 1886, and stands as the retail outlet for Rice’s Country Hams. He bought the store from his uncle in 1935.  

In 1949-50, the country grocery business began to slow down. In looking for a way to support his family, his brother-in-law suggested he cure some country hams. Not knowing anything about curing country hams, Ed Rice Sr. went to the Extension service in Lebanon and got a booklet written by Dr. Curtis Melton, professor at the University of Tennessee. The first year, he cured 18 hams. 

All but one of those hams were stolen. It took him two years before he was able to afford to buy hams again. Before retiring in 1981, Ed Rice Sr. was curing more than 700 hams, many of which were sent to presidents, country music stars and other celebrities.

William Edward Rice Jr. was the first-born child of Edward Rice Sr. and Mamie Louise Smith. He grew up working in the country store and helping cure country hams. Like his father, Ed Rice Jr. also attended Mt. Juliet schools, where in played basketball and football. He was a member of the FFA and vice president of his senior class. He attended Tennessee Tech.  

On May 28,1960 Ed Rice Jr. married Ginger Crockett and started his family. Ed Rice Jr. began working for Ford Glass plant in June 1960 and retired in 1991. In 1981 Ed Rice Jr. took over the country ham business. Ed and Ginger Rice worked side by side, to transform the business from a small family concern into a large direct-shipping and retail operation renowned throughout the nation. 

The Rice family has had 43 grand champion hams since 1971. Once again in 2013, one of Rice’s country hams won the grand champion at the Tennessee State Fair. The country ham business continues to thrive under the leadership of his daughter and son-in-law Ginny and Scott Dabbs. It is the oldest retail business still in operation in Mt. Juliet.

• Cliff Ricketts: Cliff Ricketts was born in Nashville on Sept. 23, 1948. He was raised on a dairy farm in Mt. Juliet. He is married to Nancy Baker Ricketts. They have three children who are all involved in agriculture.   

Ricketts attended Mt. Juliet schools for all 12 years graduating in 1966 from Mt. Juliet High School. He attended Middle Tennessee State University for three years before transferring to the University of Tennessee so he could get certified to teach agricultural education. He later returned and started the agricultural education program at MTSU. 

He taught for six years at Mt. Juliet High School while attending graduate school and received his master’s degree in education administration from the University of Tennessee.   

He started at Middle Tennessee State University in 1976 as a professor of agricultural education in the School of Agribusiness and Agriscience. He received his doctorate in agricultural education from Ohio State University in 1982. 

His academic career has focused on alternative fuels for the future and exemplary work with students that have a desire to teach agricultural education at the secondary education level.  

Ricketts developed the first dual-credit grant in Tennessee to allow high school students to receive college credit for courses through MTSU while attending high school. This grant has given more than 1,200 students the opportunity to receive college credit in ornamental horticulture, agriculture education and agribusiness. 

Ricketts received the MTSU Outstanding Teacher Award in 1982 and in 2006, Alpha Gamma Rho Agriculture Teacher of the Year 1983 and 1986, the MTSU Outstanding Public Service Award in 1988, and MTSU Outstanding Research Award Finalist in 1989. 

Last year, he received the university’s highest honor, the MTSU Career Achievement Award.  

Ricketts is still active in farming with his 60-herd cow-calf operation on his 200-acre farm in Mt. Juliet, as well as at MTSU preparing future agricultural education teachers and working on a couple more alternative fuels to help America become energy independent in the future. 

“The purpose of the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame is to recognize citizens of Wilson County who have made a significant impact on agriculture in Wilson County, Tennessee, nationally or worldwide” said Hale Moss, chairman of the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame. “We feel the time is right to pay tribute to these very deserving individuals.  As you can tell, each has made significant contributions to Wilson County agriculture, as well as Wilson County in general.”

Other board members include Ben Powell, vice chairman; Keith Harrison, secretary; Diane Major, treasurer; Ruth Correll; and Jeffrey Turner. The organizers established a nonprofit status for the organization to enable them to raise money to be used for a building on the Ward Agricultural Center to be dedicated to the individuals inducted into the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame.  

“Any funds raised over and above the costs of putting on the annual banquet will be set aside for the building,” said Major.

Tickets for the April 1 banquet can be bought from Major by calling 615-444-1890, ext. 3. The cost is $15 each. Jordan’s Catering will prepare the meal.  

“We want folks to come together to recognize these deserving individuals on April 1,” said Moss. “We owe these folks a great deal of gratitude for everything they have done for agriculture, as well as Wilson County.”

In 2007, a group of concerned Wilson Countians came together to form the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame. Agriculture was a cornerstone of Wilson County from the day it was formed in 1799. To recognize the contributions of the many people involved in agriculture in the community, the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame was organized. Each year, at least four Wilson Countians are recognized during a banquet designed to bring attention to agriculture’s prominent place in Wilson County.

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