The Wilson community turned out in droves Tuesday to honor the Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame’s latest inductees.
“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 felt the time was right to pay tribute to these very deserving individuals. Each has made significant contributions to Wilson County agriculture, as well as Wilson County in general.”
Robert “Bob” Burton, Bob Haley, Fred Laine and Harold Patton were honored with a banquet at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center as the seventh class of inductees into the hall of fame.
“This is definitely a humbling experience to be nominated for the hall of fame,” said Haley. “And then when you see the crowd we’ve got here…”
He said he was surprised when he was selected.
“I was thinking they’d probably put somebody older than me,” said Haley, laughing.
Patton was similarly surprised by the honor.
“I’m thrilled. It’s quite an honor to be inducted into the hall of fame. It was kind of a shock when [Keith Harrison, secretary for the hall of fame] came and told me about it,” said Patton. “I told him ‘as long as I don’t have to make a long speech, I’ll be fine.’”
This year’s inductees each made unique and lasting impacts on the Wilson County agricultural community.
• Burton, who was born Oct. 9, 1911 in the LaGuardo community, graduated from Mt Juliet High School in 1931 and was awarded a law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Cumberland University in 1933. He bred Walker fox hounds, five-gaited trotters and horses from the great stallion, Nasr, at Travelers Rest Arabian Stud Farm in Nashville. In the late 1930s the Burtons were among the first to grow strawberries locally. He helped his father and uncles raise one of the first “burley tobacco crops for sale” in Wilson County, a crop he continued to raise until 1977. In the late 1960s, his tobacco acreage was the largest single-owner base in Wilson County
In 1936, he was first elected as a county magistrate serving the 4th Civil District, Wilson County Court, then to the Tennessee 75th General Assembly as state representative in 1946; then returned to elected office in Wilson County. He served on the first Wilson County Planning Commission; on the Road Commission; and was one of the first directors of the Wilson County Library Board.
In March 1974 he made a motion to buy 104 acres. While some said, “That’s too much,” that acquisition of property led to the James E. Ward Agricultural and Community Center. Burton died Oct. 21, 1979.
• Haley was born on Dec. 6, 1941 and raised on a farm in the Watertown/Alexandria area in Wilson County. In 1959, Haley graduated from Watertown High School and continued his education at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He delayed graduation by beginning active duty in the Navy and served in the reserves for two years. He served aboard aircraft carrier USS Independence in the Mediterranean and in active duty until 1967.
Haley returned to college at Middle Tennessee State University, where he was a charter member of the Block and Bridle Club, and graduated in 1968 with a degree in agribusiness. He worked as a sales representative and poultry technician for Central Soya in Decatur, Ind.
In 1969, Haley returned to the farm in Watertown and began raising tobacco and beef cattle. Also that same year, he opened the Watertown Farm Supply and managed it until 1976, but he continued to own it until 1993.
Haley served Wilson County in many capacities, including district commissioner (1982-02), chairman of the Finance Committee, chairman of the Education Committee, chairman of the Ag Center Committee, board member of Wilson Farmers Co-op, Wilson County Farm Bureau, Wilson County Livestock Association and Wilson County Election Committee (2003-present) as chairman and secretary. He has been a Wilson County Fair Board member since 1982 and chairman of the Century Farm Luncheon, beginning in 1993. Haley was the 1995 Soil Conservation Farmer of the Year. He is a Master Beef Producer and Gardener and is Beef Quality Assurance Certified.
• Laine was born May 18, 1928. He attended elementary and high school in Wilson County. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture and master of science degree. After college, he joined the Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1953. Laine retired after more than 20 years of military service as a lieutenant colonel. In 1975, Laine was asked to substitute at Lebanon High School teaching agriculture. It turned into a full-time job lasting 15 years.
His students won many local, state and national awards because of his mentoring and teaching skills. Awards for the Lebanon FFA Chapter included superior chapter. He also had three students selected as state FFA president and two state FFA vice-presidents. Laine was the first FFA advisor in Wilson County to be eligible to take a team to compete in the National Soil Judging Contest in Oklahoma. In 1999, a number of Laine’s FFA students established the Fred G. Laine Memorial Scholarship administered by the Tennessee FFA Foundation. Laine served as a Wilson County Soil Conservation District Supervisor from 1976 until his death in 1997. The Wilson County Soil Conservation District has given the Fred G. Laine Memorial Land Judging Award to the high individual since 1997 to honor his contributions to education and conservation in Wilson County.
• Patton was born Oct. 3, 1935 in Crossville. During his early years, the family moved several times whenever his father’s job led them. Patton began school in Franklin. The family moved to their farm in Watertown when he was in the third grade, and then he became a young farmer. He continued helping his father in the dairy and growing crops through his high school years. Milking cows, football practice and games were time consuming, but Patton lettered four years and was team captain his senior year. He was active in FFA and music and was selected “Best All-Around Student.”
After graduating from Watertown in 1953, Patton began working in Nashville with Ragland-Potter Co., a wholesale food distributer.
In 1958, Patton joined Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, first working in inventory control, and then moving to a buyer in the hardware department. After 11 years at Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, he came to Wilson Farmers Cooperative to work as assistant manager with Ira Partlow. When Partlow retired in 1969, Patton became manager. In 2002, Patton retired with 43 years of combined service to the farmers of Wilson County and Tennessee.
He has served on the board of directors for Wilson Bank & Trust for 25 years and is also a member of the Wilson County Fair Board, as well as the Wilson County Livestock Association. He raises registered Angus and Chiangus cattle and owned the 1994 National Chiangus Champion Female and the 1995 National Chiangus Cow-Calf Champion. In addition, Patton received the Mike Baker Friend of the Fair Award from the Wilson County Fair.
The Wilson County Agricultural Hall of Fame was formed in 2007 to recognize the contributions of the many people involved in agriculture locally since the county was formed in 1799.