1997 Pioneer Dairy Leadership Award

Ross and Marguerite Thompson, Rolla

On Feb. 22, 1903, Jake and Molly Thompson and their nine-year-old son Ross moved to a 120-acre farm located five miles southeast of Rolla. Their belongings consisted of one horse, one milk cow, and some household goods which were shipped by rail from their-former home in Kenney, Ill. There were no fences on the farm, just a log cabin and a log barn where the animals were confined until fences could be built.

On Thanksgiving Day 1926, a tornado swept through the farm destroying buildings, tearing out fences, uprooting trees, and creating other havoc. All that remained was the house and even it was moved on its foundation. There was so much destruction that Jake and Molly felt they would not be able to rebuild so they passed the property and farming operation on Ross.

In the early 1920s Ross worked at a local dairy gaining experience milking by hand, bottling the milk and cream, and delivering products to individuals, restaurants, and hotels in the Rolla area. In the spring of 1926, while delivering milk to a restaurant in Rolla, Ross met Marguerite Berwick, a young school teacher working at the restaurant while waiting for the teachers’ normal to begin at the Missouri School of Mines.

She was raised on a farm and enjoyed farm life. After teaching the winter of 1926-27 at a rural school, she and Ross were married in October 1927. They spent their honeymoon, and the next 38 years, milking cows. At the time of their marriage Ross had accumulated seven grade dairy cows, 35 chickens, and a brood sow. Ross and Marguerite gave their farm, nestled in a small valley, the Scottish name, Glengrove.

Their first registered cattle were a Jersey heifer and bull purchased in the early 1930s from Meramac Springs Dairy near St. James. These two animals were the foundation of their registered herd which expanded to about 20 milk cows plus replacements.

They purchased quality herd bulls and were pioneers in the use of artificial insemination to improve the genetics and performance of their herd. As the quality of their cattle improved they began showing them successfully at county and regional fairs and they soon developed a reputation for fine quality cattle.

Ross and Marguerite enjoyed hosting 4-H and FFA judging contests at Glengrove. The district FFA dairy judging contests included classes at Glengrove for many years. Ross was awarded the Honorary State Farmers degree for his service to the Future Farmers of America.

The Glengrove Jersey herd was enrolled in the DHIA and was tested regularly to measure improvement in milk production. Originally, milk was separated on the farm and cream was sold to the Rolla Creamery and to local restaurants. Later, the milk was sold to a Grade A dairy in Rolla. The herd was dispersed in 1965.

As the herd continued to improve, Glengrove Jerseys were in demand for breeding stock. Many registered breeders, such as the School of the Ozarks, bought seed stock. The Rolla Kiwanis Club purchased young heifer calves to be given to local students for farm projects.

The Thompson marriage was an equal partnership of responsibility and work. Ross credited Marguerite’s constant help by saying “my wife does her share of the work on the farm and of every dime we have, she has made five cents of it.”

Ross and Marguerite were progressively minded in their approach to farming. For example, in 1942 they entered the Balanced Farming program sponsored of the University of Missouri Agricultural Extension Service. In 1947 they were chosen for recognition in an awards program sponsored by the Extension Service and the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce for the farming practices they implemented that doubled the dairy cattle carrying capacity of the 120-acre farm. Their Balanced Farming program included lengthening the pasture season with rotations of small grains and legumes.

In addition to dairy cattle, the Thompsons maintained a flock of 800 White Leghorn laying hens. In 1947 they received the Gold Star Poultry Raiser Award sponsored by the Weekly Kansas City Star, Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, and the MU College of Agriculture. The award was given for improved practices in handling poultry on the farm resulting in increased egg production per hen.

The dairy and poultry farm was the sole source of income for the Thompsons and provided the resources to educate their children, Rhoda May and Robert, and Rilla, Ross’ daughter by another marriage. Both Rhoda May and Robert graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In addition to a successful farming operation, the Thompsons contributed countless hours to their community with University Extension work, serving on the county extension councils and providing leadership in local extension clubs, and 4-H and other programs.

Ross served on the Central Missouri Regional Fair board for many years and was president of the fair in 1955.

The Thompsons were active in the First United Methodist Church in Rolla which recently honored Marguerite as the member with the longest active tenure – 71 years. Marguerite, at 90, continues to live on the farm and raises a large garden every year.

Ross died in January 1976. He was innovative in his approach to farming and always open to new farming methods and practices. Yet, his goal was simple. After receiving the Balanced Farming award he was quoted in the Rolla Daily News as saying “my main goal is that when I die, people can say that I made a good living off my 120 acres and yet left the soil in just a little better shape than when I took it over.