Our Women of Integrity and Quiet Authority
By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Communication, Ag
Beryl and Lovell Rousseau of Rousseau Farms represent a long tradition of farming in our state and also served in extensive leadership roles in their county and state Farm Bureaus. After leafing through back issues of Arizona Farm Bureau News, highlighting Beryl Rousseau would be a worthy task.
Interviewed in 2012 in celebration of Arizona's Centennial, Beryl Rousseau, Sherry
But first, let’s sneak a quick look at the Rousseau family tradition of farming.
Rousseau Family History
The Rousseau family tradition of farming in Arizona started in 1878 when the first family member, Charles Pendergast, came to Phoenix with a grain harvesting crew that year. He acquired several thousand acres of farmland and began growing grain and hay on the west side of Phoenix.
In 1892 L.D. Rousseau arrived in Phoenix in a covered wagon and within a few years had purchased land and begun to farm. Both men were influential in bringing the life blood of the valley to Phoenix — water.
Over the years the family has grown hay, grains,
Two Rousseau brothers, Lovell and Bill, continued the Rousseau family farming tradition with livestock and crops, diversifying and improving farming methods as agriculture developed and modernized, especially during the 1900s.
When Beryl married Lovell, a well-known tradition of Rousseau farming in the valley had already been established for some time. But their marriage solidified a commitment to industry advancement and volunteer leadership in agriculture groups such as Farm Bureau.
In 1983, Lovell and Beryl retired from farming, though the Rousseau farming name continues through their nephew, Will Rousseau.
Farming since 1979, in 1986 Will Rousseau, Bill Rousseau’s son, was growing about 1,700 acres of row crops and decided to experiment with 40 acres of carrots. Will was hooked on growing vegetables and today Rousseau Farming Company® grows approximately 10,000 acres of fresh vegetables, melons,
Rousseau Farming Company® is family owned and operated by Will and Leslie Rousseau; the company had also previously had
Bitten by the Farm Bureau Bug
Many of us can share interesting stories of how we came to leadership roles in our agriculture industry. Sometimes it’s a simple request made by a friend to, “get involved.” More often, it’s inspired by current leaders speaking to you about the importance of grassroots politics.
“Lovell and I went to a Western Regional Farm Bureau meeting in California. We broke up into study groups and speakers let us know what Farm Bureau was doing in Congress,” says Rousseau. “That motivated me. I thought we should be engaged [with Congress] and down at the Arizona legislature. I got very active after that and mostly on the political side of things including the legislative dinners hosted at the state Capitol.”
This same engagement inspired another leader: Sherry Saylor, previous Arizona Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee Chair and current Chair of the American Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee. “I will always be grateful for Beryl, who gave me my first opportunity to serve. I remember I was young and didn’t know very much about agriculture.”
Saylor followed Rousseau, which was “huge for this city girl.” “I give Farm Bureau credit for educating me and providing the knowledge base and the training,” says Saylor.
And since Saylor was elected state chair after Rousseau she fully credits her with all her future leadership engagement with Farm Bureau on the county,
In talking with Rousseau, Saylor and also Rena May Lawson at a gathering in 2012 at Rousseau’s home, the group spoke of agriculture’s tight-knit group and, how despite differences among commodities, overwhelmingly everyone works together to stand up for their beliefs.
“Our involvement is part of telling our story,” says Saylor. “We share what we do; we’re transparent, we’re gracious about it. Because of women like Beryl and Rena
And up until just a few years ago, Rousseau’s current cause was taking “urban dwellers” to Maricopa County’s Farm/City breakfasts. “I still work through issues like this in my neighborhood and any organization I’m involved in,” she says. “We have to incorporate the people who are not in farming into our experiences so they learn about what we’re doing.”
Back in 1963, she was just getting started on behalf of Arizona Farm Bureau.
Quite a Time to Be in Leadership
Beryl Rousseau took on the Arizona Farm Bureau’s Women’s Chairmanship in November of 1963. That was the same month President John F. Kennedy’s assassination rocks a nation and troubles mount in Vietnam. Films that year include “The Birds” and “The Great Escape” and popular television programs “The Virginian” and “Lassie” air weekly. Ladies fashion clothes and hair styles include fur boots and towering
When Rousseau finished an 18-year stint in Farm Bureau leadership in 1981, the United Kingdom’s Charles and Diana marry, MTV launches and IBM releases the original IBM PC. The American hostages in Iran are finally released after 14 months in captivity and we have a new president in the White House: Ronald Reagan.
Those events and issues facing agriculture shaped our concerns; drove our engagement. In the 1960s, Arizona Farm Bureau hosts Legislative dinners during February and Farm Bureau women operate on the forefront of the critical issues for these times. Though not taken up as regularly and consistently by other Women’s Committee chairs, Rousseau wrote a monthly column in Arizona Farm Bureau News for several of the years she served in the chairmanship. In one letter Beryl encourages women to get involved in their local school boards and become precinct committeemen. She talks about the International Coffee Agreement and price-fixing. Plus, the 1965 Farm Bill is a focus in a few of her columns. She advocates for a strengthening of the public school system and improvements to our educational opportunities; this included a discussion of the controversial “new” math. Ultimately, Rousseau talks often about elections and politics and how in a “free society we have responsibilities we must carry forth in order to maintain our freedoms.”
Read her columns and you’ll emerge more convicted of your own leadership contributions. Read them and you’ll understand her passion for politics and the Farm Bureau.
Speaking about an elementary textbook review project, in one column Beryl Rousseau said, “To be positive in this delicate situation, it was decided that the books should not be criticized, but that we would commend and encourage the use of only the one book which best stresses the free enterprise system, and most accurately appraises Communism, Socialism, Fascism, and Feudalism. …
“We think this is most important work. If one wants to live in peace with himself, a prerequisite is to take a
Speaking on the importance of politics and their role in Farm Bureau, Rousseau said, “When I think of the things we have before us I can’t help but think of the dedication we must have in order to carry out our plans so that your goals can be reached. Never think that our organization, although few in number,
Continuing her concerns on textbooks and controversial books on recommended reading lists, Rousseau said, “Our privilege and responsibility is one of building mind,
Two landmark decisions, Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), led to the US Supreme Court establishing the current prohibition on state-sponsored prayer in schools. As a result, Rousseau said in her August 1964 column, “It is traditional for Farm Bureau leaders and members to be active in educational programs of their local schools, to serve on local school boards, make independent studies of textbooks and to constantly seek to improve our educational system. Since the matter of school prayers and Bible reading affects every family in this country, relates so importantly to our heritage and tradition, and may have a profound effect upon our future way of life, I would like to devote my column to a statement presented at a House Judiciary Committee hearing by the chairman of the women’s committee of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Mrs. Haven Smith recommended adoption of an amendment to the Constitution which would ‘guarantee the right to offer prayers in our public schools and other public places,’” explained Rousseau’s column.
Rousseau went on to quote Smith’s statement to the House Judiciary Committee regarding her proposed amendment. Of course, history documents the outcome, but it reveals the intimate engagement the women of the Farm Bureau had on these critical national issues. And while our leaders win some and lose some, they never give up.
They’ll tell you, the ones they lose are worth fighting for. “I still work through issues that should matter to us when it comes to our freedoms,” explains Rousseau. “We can’t give up.”
While visiting with Saylor,
Saylor continued. “Like my mother-in-law, Mary, she was not the one that got out in front and did a lot of talking. But she had a quiet authority about her. She would make her point known in one-on-one conversations. She could really defend what we do as an industry and she also did whatever it would take to get the job done whether it was cutting pies at a legislative dinner or hosting a legislator. She did a lot of things that were simply gracious but would generate a chance for Farm Bureau leaders to dialogue and connect with our legislators.”
Saylor went on to describe the women of Farm Bureau as “the giants whose shoulders we stand on” because of the strong foundation they laid for the rest of us. “I will always be grateful for my mother-in-law encouraging me to get involved in Farm Bureau. I think one of the things I will always keep in my heart is when Mary told me, ‘I’m so glad you fell in love with agriculture and embraced it.’”
In the Tradition of Tradition
Arizona Farm Bureau, along with our other agriculture groups, will continue serving up quality food and fiber. It’s what we do. But in the tradition of tradition and quiet
Rousseau does not write columns anymore though you can read her early ones in
Yes, we’ll always see
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Arizona Agriculture in celebration of the state's Centennial year and agriculture's influence.