Donald and Lulu Belle Thomas are this year’s ‘Silver Star’ award honorees by the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District, celebrating a lifelong commitment to agriculture – and the couple is fitting of that description – a lifetime of agriculture.
Don was raised in Gallatin County, Kentucky
“We lived in Kentucky, had a farm over there in 1958, and then we decided to move back over here where her family was,” Donald said. “I had family in both places, so it didn’t make much difference to me.”
They finally made the move to Switzerland County in January of 1960.
“Froze our taters off,” Donald laughed.
“I was so cold,” Lulu Belle said. “We bought the old Gurley farm out there by the water tower, and we lived there for 30 years. We raised our kids there. We didn’t know that they didn’t want us to sell until after we did!”
The couple already owned the property on State Road 250 near Swiss Caps, but it didn’t have any livable buildings on it.
“We farmed it, but we didn’t live up here, until after I retired,” Donald said. “I worked at General Motors for 30 years. I worked on the railroad for awhile; and then I worked on a tugboat for Ashland Oil, then I got hooked up with General Motors. I retired in 1984.”
“But we were farming, too,” Lulu Belle said. “So everyone helped.”
“When I retired, she put me to work,” Donald smiled.
“When he got back to the farm, he took some of my jobs,” Lulu Belle laughed.
The couple met because Donald’s grandfather had a farm next to Lulu Belle’s father’s place.
“I’d go over and visit him once in awhile, and I spied this little girl over there, and she kept messing around there and I finally got to know her pretty good,” Donald said. “We kind of branched off there for awhile.”
“We courted for quite a while, and then we’d quit. Then we’d court again.” Lulu Belle said. “Our place was over on Hominy Ridge. My parents were Carl and Beulah Powers.”
“We finally got hooked up with one another, and then I got drafted into the Navy,” Donald continued. “That slowed us down for awhile. We married in 1955, and we knew I was going to have to go to the service.”
Donald spent two years on a destroyer during the final part of the Korean War, but General Motors held his job for him while he was serving his country, so when he was discharged, he went right back to his former life.
The couple stays busy mowing the yard and tending to their garden. Lulu Belle does the canning; and the couple has turned most of the day to day farming operations over to their son, Anthony. Daughter, Donna, serves the town of Vevay as the Clerk-Treasurer. They have four grandchildren: Justin, Jessica, Natalie, and Evan; and three great-grandchildren.
When the family was fully involved in farming, they raised tobacco and hay; including one year where they raised 20 acres of tobacco.
“We did that with a one row tobacco setter,” Lulu Belle said. “Boy, did we work.”
“It was hard work, but we enjoyed it,” Donald said. “You could make pretty good money then.”
“I don’t think you can grow your kids up anywhere else that would be as good as farming,” Lulu Belle said. “It made our family close. Everyone worked and helped.”
“Time is different now than it was back then,” Donald said. “People are so much advanced, things are so much advanced now.”
The couple has been through some difficulties during their lives together; but their love and commitment to each other has seen them through.
“We had some problems, in 2001 she had cancer and I had a five-way by pass,” Donald said. “It slowed us down for a little while, but we came out of it. She got out of her deal and I got out of mine. We had some neighbors here when I came back from the hospital: Jack Armstrong, and Basil and Carlie Armstrong. There’s nothing like having good neighbors and friends.”
The couple also stays busy playing Gospel and Bluegrass music, and always find time to help whoever needs it.
“That’s what life is all about,” Donald said. “Everyone needs to take care of each other and those who need it.”