amily keeps building on what

amily keeps building on what

Image Credit: Dave Mast

Since 1965 the Tom Graham 5th Grade Farm Tour in Holmes County has been a rite of passage, presented by the Holmes Soil & Water Conservation District as a way to introduce Holmes County youth to the importance agriculture and conservation play in the economics of Holmes County.

In 1992 the Holmes SWCD officially renamed its farm tour as the Tom Graham 5th Grade Conservation Farm Tour in memory of Graham, a soil scientist who taught about soils at the tour for a dozen years before his death.

Since that time his family has continued to be a vital part of the farm tours that have grown from one tour in Holmes County to two separate tours, one featured in both the East and West Holmes school districts.

In addition to attending the farm tours whenever possible, Graham’s sons Ryan and Brandon have presented the award-winning essays written by each fifth-grader as part of the tour at each of the SWCD’s annual business meetings. While their father passed away when the boys were just 1 and 2 years old, they have enjoyed continuing their father’s legacy in this way.

For Shelly Graham-Norris, wife of Graham until he passed away, her family’s inclusion in the event is something they cherish. She said Tom was very committed to teaching young people the value of conservation and the important role soil plays, noting he was part of the event right up until he passed away.

“The last event he attended was at the end of his battle with cancer,” Graham-Norris said. “He couldn’t walk at that time, and he was in a wheelchair. I brought him to the farm, and he sat in his wheelchair at the side of his soil pit. He was supposed to get a blood transfusion that day, and he told the nurses at the hospital he wasn’t coming in until he got to spend time with his kids. To have this tour in his name and to continue something that was so important to Tom is a great honor for our family.”

She said they pushed back his transfusion time that day to accommodate him, and he performed his duties before heading off for the transfusion. Graham-Norris said her husband knew that would be his final time speaking to the fifth-graders and he wanted to see it through.

A school nurse at Ida Sue School in Wooster, Graham-Norris and her sons and their families try to find time to make it to a tour each year. On Thursday, Oct. 7, she, her husband Dale Norris and her family made the trek to Velvet View Farm near Nashville, where they enjoyed watching a whole new crop of educators share with the students.

Graham-Norris said oddly enough, she was the farm girl growing up, and Tom actually grew up in the city, hailing from Cleveland. She said his family always ribbed him for growing up in the city and then going to the Ohio State University to study soil science.

She said she remembers fondly taking trips with her husband to collect soil samples, which he would bag and take to Columbus, where they would be tested. After receiving the results, Graham would pore over the results in his mapping room, located in an unusual part of Holmes County.

“They were renting a room in the basement of the post office at the time,” Graham-Norris said of the Holmes SWCD. “That was where he worked.”

Graham was always closely connected to teaching and working with children, and so is Graham-Norris, who not only has worked as a school nurse for 38 years, but also volunteers as a nurse at Camp NuHop near Wooster in the summer.

“Working with children was always a passion for both of us,” Graham-Norris said. “I think our whole family understands the value of educating these students on the tour, and it is always neat to see the kids’ reactions when they experience something new on the farm. Our hope is that this event continues to shine light on conservation, soil and farming, the things Tom was so passionate about.”