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Stability eludes second trio of state FB presidents

Michigan State Farm Bureau presidents (from left): Mike L. Noon of Jackson County, Kent County’s Melville McPherson, and Watson Billings of Genesee County.
Date Posted: May 23, 2024

Fifteen meeting rooms in your newly revamped Farm Bureau Center are named for the organization’s 15 past presidents. 

In the last issue of Farm Gate we shared profiles of the Michigan State Farm Bureau’s first three leaders. The trio who succeeded them included the organization’s only repeat president, and the only two who died in office.

Allow me to introduce…

Michael L. Noon — 1924-26 & 1927-34

Jackson County dairyman Michael L. Noon was the only MFB president to serve two nonconsecutive terms — 1924-26 and 1927-34 — and the first to die while in office.

Before his presidency Noon served on the board of directors under its early commodity-exchange representation plan, representing Michigan Milk Producers Association. 

Preceding both his presidential terms were stints as vice president, under Waldo Philips and M.B. McPherson. Even in that post he was remembered as a popular speaker in high demand at Farm Bureau meetings.

Clark Brody remembered Noon as “one of the most helpful characters to the administration in the early days of the Farm Bureau. His friendly, likable disposition and clever personality stood us in good stead in smoothing out many rough complications.

“He was vice president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association and made an important contribution in starting and maintaining the fine relationship between the Milk Producers Association and the Farm Bureau.”

Noon died on his farm near Jackson on July 18, 1934. Paraphrasing Brody:

“Everyone who had worked with Mike experienced a personal loss at his passing. He had great faith in the Bureau. His very presence had lent great stability to the Bureau and created goodwill for it. 

“Perhaps no man is indispensable; certainly the business of the world can and must go on without him. But some of us, Mike Noon for instance, are more indispensable than others.” 

Melville B. McPherson — 1926-27 

Kent County farmer Melville B. McPherson’s sole year as president of the Michigan State Farm Bureau belies the depth of his engagement with the state’s agriculture industry. 

A brief article in the Oct. 3, 1936, Michigan Farm News had McPherson working the family farm alongside his son Donald:

“The original homestead comprised around 300 acres, but it has been expanded through the years until now the McPhersons own and operate nearly 800 acres, making it one of the largest ‘family farms’ in the state.

“All through the five generations, the occupants have striven to maintain the fertility of the land. Wheat yields reflect the good care given the soil. This year’s yields, despite the drought, were comparable to those obtained a century ago when the first family of McPhersons came out of the east to settle upon the land and clear away the timber and stumps.”

Still active as a director in the 1930s, McPherson championed the cause of rural electrification, representing Farm Bureau on a committee appointed to make recommendations to the Michigan Public Utilities Commission. That body eventually ordered power companies to dramatically extend their existing power-line network deep into rural areas. 

Before and after his presidency, McPherson served on the State Board of Agriculture, the governing body overseeing Michigan Agricultural College. He served on the Michigan State University Board of Trustees 1922-1933, and again 1940-1945. 

Green blood ran deep in the McPherson clan: Two generations later, his grandson Melville Peter McPherson would leave the same family farm for careers in law and finance — until being chosen as the 19th president of Michigan State University in 1993.

Watson W. Billings — 1934-35

Genesee County’s Watson W. Billings ascended to the presidency of the Michigan State Farm Bureau upon the death of his predecessor, M.L. Noon, on July 18, 1934.

As Noon’s vice president, Billings served the organization as a commodity director representing the Michigan Cooperative Wool Marketing Association. Billings was credited with the “field promotion work and local assembling” that informed the program’s growing prosperity into the subsequent decades.

Sadly, Billings wasn’t around to see the dividends his efforts would pay.

Scarcely a year in his own presidency, Billings would suffer the same fate as his predecessor, on April 28, 1935, becoming the second consecutive state president to die while in office. 

A memorial resolution adopted by the board of directors later that year praised Billings’ service:

“Mr. Billings had been active in Farm Bureau affairs since its beginning 17 years ago. Regardless of how any turn of events or change of policy affected his own personal interests and relationships, he remained steadfastly loyal to the Michigan State Farm Bureau. Previous to his advancement to the presidency he had served as vice president for several years, and at the time of his death was also president of the Michigan Cooperative Wool Marketing Association.

“Not only shall we miss his counsel, loyalty and support, but his spontaneous humor and interest has come to be an almost essential part of our annual meeting. The close friendship developing from our association with him over the past 15 years will always be a highly prized memory, and his influence will live after him to inspire us to loyal and courageous effort for organized agriculture on down through the years.”

Portrait of MFB Member Communications Specialist Jeremy Nagel.

Jeremy Nagel

Member Communications Specialist
517-323-6885 [email protected]

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