Chester McHaffie thought his family was taking him to church. Instead, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren took him to the Christian County Resource Room on Jackson Street in Ozark so the University of Missouri Extension Council could recognize Chester — known as Chet — and his Bruner farm as a Missouri Century Farm.
It was an unexpected birthday surprise to Chet, who turned 94 on June 6. He was born in the same farmhouse where he lives today.
“When I graduated high school they just moved on and left me,” Chet said about his parents, as the crowd laughed. When asked who built the house, Chet quips, “Well, who knows?”
Jim Spencer Jr., program director for MU Extension in Christian County, said in order to be recognized as a Missouri Century Farm, farms must be owned by the same family for 100 consecutive years; farms must maintain a line of ownership from the original seller or buyer through children, grandchildren, siblings including marriage or adoption; and the farm must consist of no less than 40 acres of original land and make a financial contribution to the overall farm income.
“For 2017, the Christian County Extension Council would like to recognize the (McHaffie family) farm for earning the distinction as a Missouri Century Farm,” Spencer said.
One of Chet’s sons, Tom McHaffie, said the farm started out as 40 acres and now encompasses 213 acres. Through the years, the family ran milk cows and later beef cattle. Today, Tom said the family continues to cut hay and hunts on the land.
Following the presentation, the family told story after story about life on the Bruner farm.
Granddaughter Tammy Winter read a story Chet — who she lovingly calls “my pa” — told her last year that outlined his love for his farm and family.
“I was born Jan. 6, 1923, in the same room I rest my head nightly,” he said. “As a child, myself, my brother and sister ran the hollars I still call home.”
Chet attended Bruner school through eighth-grade and then completed school in Sparta. He married Rosie, who he called “the love of my life,” and they had their first child, JD, before Chet was drafted into World War II. Chet served in the Army and fought in the Battle of Luzon in the Philippines.
When he returned home, he and Rosie, had more children — five in all. Today, Chet has eight grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and 11 step-great-grandchildren, four great-great-grandchildren, with another on the way, and six step-great-great-grandchildren.
Chet remembers taking his family to the movies at the old drive-in between Bruner and Sparta near Apache Road. In 1963, Chet started working as a mechanic for Campbell Ford & Mercury. He retired 25 years later and that’s when he and Rosie became a staple at the Oldfield Opry. He also enjoyed watching his son-in-law race cars. Rosie died in 2012. The couple had been married 69 years.
“Life was good to us,” Chet told his granddaughter last year. “I’ve been through war, the loss of a child, the loss of my siblings and prostate cancer. I have the best children, grandchildren a man could ask for and a ton of family and friends.”
Tammy said her grandfather is the oldest living McHaffie, to the family’s knowledge.
As the family reminisces about the old barn, the smoke house, the cellars and the corn crib, it is clear that the family treasures the memories just as much as the farm itself.
Tom remembers taking turns sitting on the drag when “dad went to work.” Jeanne Elgie remembers her father doing everything with his Willys Jeep, including cutting hay and plowing. And everyone remembers the story about how “Old Man Price” from Bruner gave Chet some billy goats that he traded for his first car — a 1931 Durant.
“Of course, it didn’t run. But he’s a mechanic and got it running,” Tom said. “He traded it for the Doodlebug tractor.”
The family owns another farm in Sparta, which they believe will become a century farm in 2034.
For Chet, the celebration of his farm and lifelong home was a welcome and unexpected 94th birthday gift.