I can’t imagine the total number of decisions a person makes in their lifetime, but my guess is that the overwhelming majority of them don’t matter much. But in 1947 my grandpa, Dell Wheadon, made one single decision that chartered the course for our family forever.
Grandpa gave up both his spot and his scholarship on the University of Utah’s Championship Basketball team to help his dad on their family farm. The coach begged him not to,
warning him, “You aren’t just giving up a scholarship. You’re giving up a career!” But family ALWAYS comes first and with that one decision Grandpa not only sealed his fate to be a farmer, but sealed our fate as a farming family forever.
In 1965 Grandpa and Grandma (Norma Ashworth Wheadon) bought the farm from Grandpa’s dad, Alma Wheadon (who had purchased it in 1915). By then, they had all five of their children. They set to work raising children by teaching their children to raise a farm. The crop changed throughout the years, eventually becoming what it is now – hay for the animals. Having gifted each of their children an acre of their 40-acre farm, my grandparents filled their days teaching their children, and eventually their grandchildren, lessons that are best taught on a family farm. Lessons like hard work, hard play, patience, persistence, perseverance, responsibility, cooperation, excellence, faith, and above all that family trumps everything.
Grandpa and Grandma had three daughters and two sons. In 1980 their oldest son’s wife died of a pulmonary embolism. Their son, Doug, brought his two very young girls and moved back in with Grandpa & Grandma so they could help him with the kids while he made his living as a truck driver. Ten short weeks later Grandpa & Grandma’s younger son died suddenly when his artificial heart valve failed. With that my mom and her two sisters became Grandpa’s help on the farm. Grandchildren brought more farm helpers, but interestingly 13 of the 16 grandkids were girls. Therefore, Wheadon Farm has mostly been run by women and girls since 1980.
Growing up on my grandparents’ farm was an absolute dream come true for me. Living next door to all your aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents on one side of the family isn’t all bumper crops and pony rides, but I wouldn’t trade the life I had for anything!!
Thirty-plus years have gone by and I can still close my eyes and see my grandpa out there in the pasture. Grandpa has our gorgeous, faithful Shire (a British breed of draught horse), Molly, hitched up to the snow sleigh. While all the grandkids were away at school, he spent his day using his John Deere tractor to create bumps in an oval pattern that covered the entire livestock pasture. Attached to the back of the snow sleigh was a log pole with two inner tubes, one behind the other, strapped to it on each end. He was warming Molly up for what was to come — sheer madness! All the grandkids who were old enough would jump off the school bus, race inside to change into mis-matched snow clothes and moon boots that were anyone’s size but the child wearing them, and then race back outside to try to get the best of the four innertubes. Then the horse-drawn sleigh riding would commence. We’d ride for an hour or two until it started to get too dark or too cold. Then all the grandkids would go into Grandma’s house for hot chocolate with mini marshmallows – except for me.
I never cared for chocolate, so I stayed outside with Grandpa. I’d listen to him talk to himself and whistle while he put away the tack (saddle, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses). I would lead Molly around the backyard cooling her off. Besides our own, there weren’t any houses around at that point. The only sounds were Grandpa, Molly’s breathing, and the crunching of snow as we paced the yard. Eventually we’d turn Molly out to pasture and all us kids would go home to our respective houses for the night.
In the early 1990’s things started to change. The farmer to the north passed away and his family sold the farm. Seemingly overnight the farmland and open space that we had enjoyed was filled with houses. Next, it was the farm to the east. Finally, the farm to the west. With that, our little farm was surrounded by urban development. South Jordan City grew, and grew, and grew. The little town we had known and loved had changed forever, but our family farm had managed to go unscathed.
Urbanization is a threat to a little family farm like ours. Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agent to take away private property for public use, like roads, schools, or hospitals, with compensation. Wheadon Farm has been required to sell property to the city for an underground water tank. When it comes to imminent domain, a farmer isn’t left with much of a leg to stand on. A few years later, another city plan proposed taking half of our farm for soccer fields. Although the proposal never got traction, we began to realize that if we wanted to protect our farm, we needed to help others see its value.
Aunt Joan had an idea to put up a Nativity scene in the pasture. She told her cousin and go-to guy about her dream and the two of them were off and running. They determined that they would use mannequins for the people and then feed the animals right around the manger to keep them close by. With that the Wheadon Farm Live Nativity was born. Throughout the years we have added more and more to the Nativity scene.
To let people experience the farm, we started hosting a dinner and Night at the Nativity event a few years ago for elected officials, city planners, and other decision makers to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with us (and the animals) at the farm. We hoped that by bringing them to the farm they could feel the “Spirit of Place” there and fall in love with it themselves. We also hoped that they would see what a huge asset the farm has become to our entire community.
The Wheadon Live Nativity has been described as “inspiring” by people in our community. One man wrote, “It inspires me to contemplate the actual events of more than 2,000 years ago.” Many have expressed appreciation for our efforts and that it has brought special meaning to the season.
The lives of our loved ones, the memories we have made with them throughout the years, and the losses we have suffered have made Wheadon Farm sacred ground to our family.
It’s true, some decisions we make in our lifetime don’t matter much. Our hope is that we can prove our mettle as a farm family and prove the worth of our farm is much greater than real estate. We have absolutely no desire to sell the farm. When people ask us, “Don’t you know how much that land is worth?” our response is always the same: “Yes. But then all we’d have is money.” Our greatest desire is to keep the farm just as it is for generations to come, because we know some decisions make all the difference.