By Kelsie Hoitomt
GLENWOOD CITY – This year your Rustic Lore Grand Marshals are Tom and Judy Knox, residents of Glenwood City since 1986.
The Knoxes have been a fixture in the community for 30 years now as Tom was working as a substitute teacher in the high school since 1984.
Prior to moving to Wisconsin, Tom and Judy both were born and raised in Illinois. Tom grew up in Green County on a farm near White Hall, north of St. Louis, Missouri.
When Tom was in seventh grade, he and the family moved to town and that is when they had electricity for the first time; a story he loves to share with the grandkids.
It was in school as a student himself that Tom first became involved with FFA, which joined along with his flock of sheep.
After graduation he found a job at the local dress factory, running a pattern cutter however it didn’t take him long to know that wasn’t what he wanted to do forever.
So with the help and push of a family friend, Tom obtained a scholarship and entrance to the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois.
Judy was born in Knox County in Galesburg, which is in the northwest part of the state near the Mississippi River. She is the only girl and middle child with two other brothers.
Growing up, Judy stayed busy swimming at the nearby country club or in the local library as her mother was a teacher/librarian.
Reading was a real passion from a young age so Judy found herself engrossed in Nancy Barton and Visiting Nurse books. She hoped one day to be a visiting nurse and save the world.
Judy graduated from Wyoming Community High School with the full intention of pursuing a career in nursing, but she found herself at Knox College instead.
Knox County, Knox College, oh the irony at the time.
Judy ended up studying Spanish and Liberal Arts instead. During her four years there, she worked in the office of the Dean of Students and was a life guard on Saturday afternoons at the campus pool where children with cerebral palsy would swim and exercise.
After graduation in 1960, Tom began teaching Vocational Agriculture in Cullom, which is south of Chicago where the land is flat and the corn is high.
As a new Vo-Ag teacher in a small school of less than 100 students, with a classroom that was run by the students themselves, Tom’s real education began there.
Tom dove head first into a career filled with local and county fairs, corn, cattle and hogs. It took him three years to build up the Vo-Ag Department and FFA.
It was after graduating in 1962 that Judy was offered a position in Cullom as a Spanish and English teacher.
It was in those very hallways that Tom and Judy met each other on an August day before school started and it was love at first sight.
After a few months of courtship, the two decided to take off after school one day to elope at a Methodist Church on December 21, 1962.
They then turned towards Chicago where they would plan to honeymoon, which in turn led to them being trapped in quite the snow storm.
The following year, Judy gave birth to their first child, a daughter who they named Lisa. They family was living in Alexis now, which is near Judy’s hometown.
Judy had taken a year off of teaching, but would go back the following fall. She then taught English and Social Studies in the Junior High.
In 1964, Tom found a small house for rent in the country that had a lot of pasture, which meant he could finally begin his dream of farming.
At this same time, Tom was still teaching and he was finishing earning a Master’s Degree through the University of Illinois.
Over the next few years, Patrick, Jane and Mike were born and the Knox clan was complete.
Judy taught for roughly five years, before she decided to follow her dream of saving the world like Nancy did through nursing.
In 1972 the Knoxes bought their dream farm and they spent most of their days helping the kids get animals ready for the fair. They raised chickens and other animals as well as a large garden and orchard.
Life was good, but Tom still had a desire to just farm. So in the summer of 1981, he retired after 21 years.
With Lisa off to college, the rest of the family packed up and moved to Shell Lake with bags, farm equipment, sheep, a border collie, and Jane’s pet lamb in tow.
Tom worked on the family farm raising the sheep, hogs and cattle while Judy worked at the Shell Lake hospital and Spooner Hospital and Care Center.
“The first two winters were much more than we expected. The snow was truly near waist high and the animals were as unhappy as the family,” said Judy.
Tom found out rather quick that being alone with his farm was not as much fun, he truly missed the kids in the classroom and all the school activity.
So with that, he substituted in Shell Lake a few times before receiving a phone call in 1984 from Al Beeler, who asked Tom to finish the year in Glenwood City as the current Ag instructor’s health was poor.
Tom finished out the school year in the ag program and then he was told that a new teacher was going to be hired if he wasn’t going to return. Well Tom felt that those kids and that classroom were his so he began teaching full time again.
Tom spent the next two and half years commuting from Shell Lake to Glenwood City before the family decided to make the move to the land of 57 hills.
With Tom in the classroom, Judy began working in New Richmond and then to Myrtle Werth in Menomonie where she had the opportunity to work at the hospital while being involved as Director of the Hospice.
She later accepted the Director of Nursing position at Elmwood and has spent the last years of her nursing career as a nurse consultant for long term care.
Judy continues to consult for Elmwood and Glenhaven as well with a strong involvement in the construction of Havenwood.
It was in 1989 that Tom and Judy bought their current residence, which was the Frank Gillis/Jasperson farm.
Together they expanded the property to accommodate their Hampshire sheep and a garden.
Their garden has now become a popular place for locals to stop for strawberries each year, which opened up around 2004-2005.
It was Tom and Gordie Otterson who started the OK Gardens with the idea of having something to do after retirement. They began with strawberries and asparagus, adding blueberries, raspberries and vegetables.
Then in 2003, the garden changed to just strawberries and there are a few sheep now.
One special change Tom made to their property was the line of trees that runs along their driveway. He hand transplanted 55 of them, which now tower over the drive.
Tom’s greatest accomplishment isn’t in the yard though, it was in the classroom.
Tom may be unbiased, but to his dear wife, those close to him and whoever was fortunate enough to enter his classroom, they know that Tom forever changed the Ag room in the Glenwood City High School.
During his 19 years in the Glenwood City School District, Tom was able to create a well developed exchange program that brought his students to Builth Wells, Wales.
To begin with, the administration here was a bit hesitant about the two week adventure, but the parents and students fully supported Tom so they ran with the idea.
Their school superintendent, a teacher and a board member made the trip over to Glenwood City one year and then a whole bus load of adult farmers spent two weeks here in the area.
Tom and Judy to this day still remain in contact with the families they met years ago and Wales is a favorite place of theirs to travel.
Aside from Wales, the students were flown to Arizona as well to see the large farming industries there. Judy’s mom lived in Mesa, so Tom was familiar with the area and that is what sparked his interest in bringing the students there.
Over the summer he would take the students to see the dairy farms and the fields that produced ten crops of hay a year and the schools that had student’s lockers on the outside of the building.
The information they retained was unlike anything that had been taught in the district before as they were able to experience life outside Glenwood City and the state of Wisconsin.
Aside from their trips, students learned how to thrive and prosper with what was around them. They were taught how to process meat, make butter and flour, and they learned how to maintain and paint a tractor and other various equipment.
Students learned how to run a business and market through the maple syrup sapping, which remained a big thing for the Ag class for many years.
Tom received a grant to start the sapping program, which utilized the community members, the city park and gave the opportunity for young people to work alongside an older generation.
The program was so successful that the students were asked to go to San Jose, California to present their project at the National Services Learning Conference.
What they learned was not wasted and it was highlighted through a variety of conferences and state conventions.
Tom laughed as he remembered the one year students made a real display of food and it was cooked. Well the smell attracted quite a crowd considering most of the participants used cardboard cut outs and poster boards.
Doing things out of the box and bit on the edge was how he taught and it panned out just right.
Tom has many a fond memory of fishing trips to Canada, trips to the National FFA Convention in Kansas City or Louisville, building projects around the school and just simply watching his students learn and grow.
Since retiring in 2003, Tom and Judy enjoy their time at home along side their garden, sheep, dog, horse, cats and geese. They busy themselves with their eight grandchildren as well.
Together they spend time in Florida over the winter months otherwise you can find Tom running around outside and Judy is usually cooking up some delicious treat.