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War-era presidents led FB with resolve, grassroots strength

Past MFB Presidents (from left) James J. Jakway, Clarence J. Reid and Carl E. Buskirk.
Date Posted: June 13, 2024

The years before, during and after World War II posed unique challenges for leaders of Michigan agriculture. Our state Farm Bureau presidents included two more southwestern fruit growers and a dairyman from the Thumb, all of whom met those challenges with steady resolve and the inherent strength of the organization’s grass roots.

James J. Jakway — 1935-39 

Like his close friend Roland Morrill, James J. Jakway was a fruit grower from Berrien County, living his entire life on the Benton Township fruit farm where he was born. 

An 1887 graduate of Michigan State College, Jakway “made fruit farming his life work and won numerous honors for his proficiency in that field.” In 1912 the college awarded him the degree of Master of Horticulture. 

Jakway taught school for eight years and served one year (1913-14) in the Michigan House of Representatives. His greater political interests were local, however; his 37-year tenure as Benton Township supervisor was tellingly documented in his obituary:

“A Democrat, Mr. Jakway was returned with clocklike regularity to his supervisor post in an area that was consistently and preponderantly Republican. The secret of his popularity with the voters of his community was his unselfish service in their interest. Year after year the ‘grand old man’ of the Berrien board was challenged by young opponents, but they invariably went down to complete defeat.”

In 1936 Jakway was awarded the certificate of merit of the Michigan Horticultural Society, and two years later began five years of service on the State Board of Agriculture.

Jakway passed away Aug. 13, 1949, at the age of 88. The following month Michigan Farm News memorialized Jakway as “an able leader [who] contributed much to the success of the organization.

“It was during Mr. Jakway’s terms as president that the Michigan Farm Bureau began a long and sustained period of growth in all fields.”

Clarence J. Reid — 1939-45 

As the Michigan State Farm Bureau’s wartime president, St. Clair County dairyman Clarence J. Reid was remembered as an inspiring leader who strove to galvanize the membership behind the war effort, even as it challenged producers’ abilities to fulfill their most fundamental roles.

He was a lifelong resident of St. Clair County, operating a 220-acre dairy farm in Kenockee Township, near Avoca, and raising certified seed. He was a charter member of the St. Clair County Farm Bureau, serving 15 years as its president before joining the state board in 1934. 

Reid had a hand in the state Farm Bureau’s first big win, pressuring the state government to replace a road tax — inherently unfair to farmers — with a gasoline tax for funding road work. He also backed the state sales tax, commodity marketing associations, equipment and insurance purchasing associations, and other groups beneficial to farmers.

The state Farm Bureau saw prodigious growth during his six-year tenure, from 10,000 members in 42 counties in 1939 to 38,000 in 51 county Farm Bureaus by the end of World War II. 

Despite a strong desire to further his education, Reid never made it to college after graduating from Yale High School. That passion for formal learning never left him, though, and upon his death in 1979 he was remembered as much for championing St. Clair education as he was his agricultural advocacy.

He served on the St. Clair County School Board (1947-59), leading its effort to consolidate K-8 school districts, and on the St. Clair County Community College Foundation Committee. In 1970 he recounted a telling anecdote from his time as a state Farm Bureau leader: 

I was walking across the campus at Michigan State with a professor from Cornell and the head of the agriculture department, who asked where I graduated.

“Yale,” I told him.

Carl E. Buskirk — 1945-54

Paw Paw fruit grower Carl E. Buskirk was the fourth generation to own and operate his family's farm since its founding in 1852, growing grapes, peaches, cherries, apples and potatoes. 

He helped organize the Van Buren County Farm Bureau and served as its secretary for 20 years, representing the county at the February 1919 formation of the Michigan State Farm Bureau. 

Buskirk helped organize the Fruit Products Company, Coloma Co-operative Canning Company, and was a long-time leader with the Lawrence Co-operative, Inc. He was president of the Michigan State Horticultural Society and served on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Fruit and Vegetable Committee, charged with presenting growers’ cases to government, business and the public.

A tribute from his local Kiwanis Club described him as a “vigorous, honest, public‑spirited citizen; an able organizer and promoter of projects of merit; a person who had accomplished much and exerted great influence for good at the local, state and national levels. Always a Democrat, but never seeking any political office, he has consistently supported principles which he believed and has considered political candidates on their own merits.”

Buskirk was good friends and worked effectively with MFB Secretary Clark Brody throughout his presidency.

“If I had to describe the years during my presidency, it would be expansion and growing pains,” Buskirk said after his retirement. “We were building up the services of Farm Bureau in those days, and the ‘grassroots’ foundation of the community groups.”

Among MFB’s many challenges during Buskirk’s tenure, he most vividly recalled membership dues, which delegates in 1948 voted to increase from $5 to $10. Membership had been increasing for several years, but slumped when dues increased. Four years later, however, membership had grown to completely overcome the decline — and continued to grow despite falling farm prices.

Portrait of MFB Member Communications Specialist Jeremy Nagel.

Jeremy Nagel

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

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