By: Bryant M. Spivey, County Extension Director
It is tradition for the Johnston County Farm-City Week Committee to host a banquet each year to celebrate agriculture and agribusiness in Johnston County. Agriculture and the greater agribusiness industry are part of a tremendous partnership that accounts for roughly 10% of the Johnston County economy and 10% of county employment. Agriculture generates over $250 million each year at the farm level. This year’s banquet was held on November 20, 2017 at the Johnston County Agricultural Center Auditorium. Dr. Rich Bonanno, NC State University Director of Cooperative Extension, was the banquet speaker. Mr. Gene Cox of Bentonville provided entertainment by singing the song, “Drinking from a Saucer.”
All Smithfield-area financial institutions and several local agribusinesses sponsored the event, including: AgCarolina Farm Credit, Agri Supply, B&S Enterprises, BB&T, Central Marketing, Coastal AgroBusiness, Crop Production Services, East Coast Equipment, Farm Bureau Insurance – Smithfield Office, First Citizens Bank & Trust, Four Oaks Bank & Trust, Hilltop Farm Supply, Johnston County Farm Bureau Federation, Johnston County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee, KS Bank, Medlin & Dorman, Inc., Regions Bank, Southern Bank, Swift Creek Nursery, and WTSB Radio.
Hungry To Help Food Drive
Also included in Farm-City Week celebrations is the Hungry to Help Food Drive benefiting Backpack Buddies. Sponsored by Johnston County 4-H and Johnston County FFA Chapters, the winning 4-H club and FFA chapter that collected the most food by weight received a $100 prize. The winning groups were Strickland’s Crossroads 4-H Club and South Johnston High School FFA. Food was also collected the night of the banquet, with all donated items going to the Backpack Buddies programs at West Smithfield Elementary and Selma Middle School. The total amount of food collected this year for the Hungry to Help food drive was 1,313 pounds.
Every year the Johnston County Farm-City Week committee recognizes families or individuals from the county that have made significant contributions to the local agricultural economy through either agribusiness or farming. This year the committee recognized DR and Elgie Wells of the Cleveland community, Keith Smith Farms from Four Oaks, and CW Flowers Store in the Bentonville community.
DR Wells was born and raised in the Cleveland community, and graduated from the old Cleveland School in 1951. Following graduation, he briefly worked with his family on the farm and at Hudson Belk in Raleigh. After a short time, he was drafted into the Army and stationed in Germany, where he served for 2 years. When Mr. Rudolph returned home, he married Elgie Allen, his high school sweetheart. Mrs. Elgie’s father, Lonnie had owned and operated the country store in the Cleveland community, LF Allen and Son, since 1947.
Following his marriage, Mr. Rudolph graduated from NC State University with a degree in Math Education in 1960. However, he thought working with his father-in-law may be a better career choice. After a few years, Rudolph purchased the business and renamed it DR Wells Emporium. He then expanded the store and added fertilizers, chemicals, seed, hardware, plow points, and everything else that farmers needed in the community.
In 1978, Elgie began working at the store as well, along with their two boys, David and Don. Running the store allowed the Wells family to help others in need in the area through gas, groceries, and other items. This generosity extended for farmers who depended on the Cleveland Emporium for supplies, which Rudolph allowed to be purchased on credit and paid in the fall as crops were harvested. Despite other stores opening in the area, the business was never affected much, partly because the Wells family viewed their customers as great friends. In 1998, Rudolph sold the business to his son David, who built the current store on Cleveland Road. David sold the business to Sandhu in 2008, who still owns it today. Although he no longer owns the store, most mornings you will find Rudolph there, greeting customers, telling stories, and enjoying life.
Aside from the business, DR and Elgie Wells also were busy supporting the Cleveland community. Rudolph was a founding member of the Cleveland Fire Department, and served as the first chief from 1961 – 1988. He also served on the Board of Directors for Smithfield Savings & Loan, which later became Raleigh Federal Savings. The couple are active members of Oakland Presbyterian Church and have served in many roles over the years. For their work, Rudolph and Elgie were named Grand Marshalls of the 2003 Cleveland 4th of July parade. In 2011, Rudolph was also selected as the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the year and received the Johnston County Agribusiness Council’s Distinguished Service to Agriculture award. Rudolph and Elgie Wells are true pillars of the Cleveland community, and there is no doubt that the vibrancy in the community today is a result of the groundwork and dedication of this couple.
Keith Smith Farms
In 1865 when Esrom Johnson returned from the Civil War, he purchased land between Smithfield and Four Oaks. Esrom’s grandson, George Ellington Johnson, cultivated the land growing tobacco, corn, and soybeans. George and his wife Edna had three daughters – Susan, Jennifer, and Lynn. While in high school, Lynn met Keith Smith of the Willow Springs community. Keith grew up working with his grandfather, Alton King, and uncle, Lavelle King, from whom he learned a great deal.
Following graduation from South Johnston High School in 1973, Keith attended NC State University. In 1976, Keith had his first crop of tobacco – 7.5 acres that he tended with his cousin, Myron Smith. Not only did Keith learn a lot by growing his own crop, but he enjoyed being able to work together with Myron.
After graduating from NC State, Keith and Andy Lassiter went to work with George Johnson. Although the three men had their separate crops, they shared in the daily operations and worked together every day. In 1981, Keith and Lynn were married, and George passed away a few months later in 1982. Despite the loss to the family, Keith continued farming to the best of his ability. Over the years he added sweet potatoes to the farm, and by the late 1980s, had grown to the point of hiring additional crews and separating his farming operation from Andy’s.
As time passed the farm operation grew and Keith began to look outside of the Four Oaks community for land to farm and was able to purchase the farm that was owned by his grandparents. Today, Keith Smith Farms grows over 300 acres of tobacco and sweet potatoes and approximately 1,000 acres of soybeans. To accomplish this, it takes a team that works together well, and Keith is blessed to have a group of men that are a critical part of the farming operation, some of whom have worked with Keith for over twenty years. The Smith family and the workers are all a big family. The entire farm crew strives each year to improve what was done previously, and if that is not possible, to do the very best that they can with the environmental conditions that nature provides. Although many things have changed since Keith began farming, he appreciates proven technology and effective work methods. Things like K 326,6-6-18, and John Deere 4020s and 4455s are staples of the farm operation.
When not on the farm, some of Keith and Lynn’s most enjoyable times were spent working with and for Four Oaks area youth. As a registered nurse, Lynn served as the trainer for multiple football, baseball, and basketball teams. Keith was a Four oaks Civitan baseball and basketball coach. Both Keith and Lynn served on various PTA, Advisory Council, and School Improvement Team committees for Four Oaks Elementary and Middle Schools and South Johnston High School. Keith and Lynn are members of White Memorial Presbyterian Church, and Keith works closely with NC State University on many on-farm tests for tobacco and other crops. Keith and Lynn also provided some great training for a nephew, David Rouzer, who now represents part of Johnston County in the US Congress. It is a great privilege to present Keith and Lynn with this honor on behalf of all those that have contributed to the success of this outstanding farm operation.
C.W. Flowers Store
In 1940, Chester W. Flowers, a native of the Bentonville community, built CW Flowers Store at the intersection of Harper House Road and Devil’s Racetrack Road. Upon opening the store, he initially sold groceries and gasoline. With no other grocery store in the vicinity, women would gather at Mr. Chester’s to purchase items needed to keep the home running and the family fed. Business was good, but confining, so Mr. Chester hired his nephew, Joel Lorman Flowers, Jr., as well as Rosenwald “Buck” Williams to work with him. A native of the community, Lorman, as he was called, graduated from Four Oaks High School and married Dorothy Edwards Porter. Together they had two daughters, Janice Flowers Bateman, and Joyce Flowers.
In the early 1960s Lorman took over operation of the store while continuing to work closely with Buck and added space to the main building. He began selling fertilizer, seed, hardware, and farm equipment tires in addition to groceries. Under Lorman’s ownership, CW Flowers Store was open 6 days a week from early morning until 9:00 pm. Although the store was officially closed on Sundays, Lorman was known to open up for the special needs of his customers. The purpose of the store was more than just making a profit – it was a way for Lorman to help his friends and neighbors in the community.
CW Flowers Store was not only a place for women to buy groceries and men to solve the world’s problems, but also where children would gather and play in the store yard. One such child was Wilson Lee, who would tag along with his father, Tan, to the store. Following graduation from NC State University, Wilson returned back to Bentonville to farm. After a few years though, he was looking to make a change. Around this time, Mr. Lorman passed away and the family was looking for someone to take over the business. Wilson’s first response to the notion of running the Bentonville institution was “absolutely not!” However, after more though, he decided to dive into business and bought the store in 1986. In the thirty years since Wilson purchased CW Flowers Store, he has not only strived to keep up with customers’ changing needs, but also to provide the same level of service as Chester and Lorman did before him. At the beginning of 2017, Wilson sold the grocery and hardware portion of the business to Dale Person, a longtime employee and Bentonville resident, and continues to operate the farm seed, chemical, fertilizer, and tire business. In the same spirit as those who have run the store prior to him, Dale and his staff are dedicated to serving the needs of local residents.
A lot has changed in the world since Chester Flowers opened his country store in 1940. However, CW Flowers Store is still just as relevant as ever. Not only does the store continue to supply most any home and farm item and excellent customer service, but it is a place that Bentonville residents gather to share their lives over a drink and a nab – their opinions on a recent story in the newspaper, an update on a family member’s health, or even a lesson in technology. It is an honor to recognize CW Flower Store, Inc. for its significant contribution to Agriculture and Agribusiness in Johnston County.
The Johnston County Farm-City Week Committee is proud to honor DR and Elgie Wells, Keith Smith Farms, and CW Flowers Store for their outstanding contributions to the farmers and consumers of Johnston County. They exemplify what Farm-City Week is all about, the partnership that puts food on the table of American families.