Seymour man realizes dream of farming

[email protected]

While growing up, Don Cummings had a dream to one day move to Seymour and live on the family farm.

In 1989, that dream came true.

“I grew up in Whiteland, Indiana, and Dad was an agriculture teacher up there, so I was born and raised in FFA and 4-H,” Cummings said. “My dad was born and raised on the family farm where we live now in rural Seymour a little west of Cortland.”

His grandpa, James E. Cummings, purchased the farm in 1922, a couple of years after he returned from World War I.

Cummings said he didn’t grow up on a farm, but when he was little, he would tag along when his dad made visits to his students’ farms in Johnson County.

“We probably ended up on every farm in the county at some time or another,” Cummings said. “By visiting those students and their younger brothers and sisters, they became my friends.”

When Cummings was attending high school in Whiteland, his best friend’s dad was a farmer.

“His dad farmed over 1,000 acres, so my first job was farming for them on weekends and evenings, even during college and dental school,” Cummings said. “Any time I was wasn’t in school, I was farming for them, so that’s how I learned the grain farming aspect, along with tractors, plows, planters, combines and things like that.”

Cummings went to Butler University, and on the day he moved into the dorm his freshman year, he heard some guys talking about their majors.

“One guy wanted to be a doctor and one wanted to be a pharmacist. Another guy, who ended up becoming my roommate, had four brothers who were doctors and one was a dentist,” Cummings said. “He told me what classes I needed to take if I wanted to be a doctor or a dentist and be out of there in three years. He turned out to be a great roommate.”

Cummings then went to his college counselor and told him he wanted to be on that three-year plan. The counselor told him it would be like sticking his head under a running lawn mower, but he persevered.

“I did OK with grades and was looking at either becoming a medical doctor or a dentist,” Cummings said. “I had also thought about being a veterinarian at one time but hated to see animals suffer, so I decided not to go that route and applied for dental school my junior year at Butler.”

Cummings finished his schooling at the Indiana University School of Dentistry in Indianapolis in 1984.

His wife, Barb, grew up in Johnson County and went to Center Grove High School. Her parents are Ruel and Rose Mary West.

“My neighbor dated his friend, who he farmed with, and so Don and I met on a blind date in a farm field, and I was still in high school,” Barb said. “I didn’t grow up on a farm but in a rural setting, and my dad raised a few beef cattle, and we had a big garden.”

Don and Barb married in 1983 during his senior year in dental school, then moved to Seymour after his graduation.

“We moved here in 1984 for his dental practice and lived in a small house in town for five years and then built our house on his family farm in 1989 and moved out here,” Barb said.

Don said when he was little, they used to come down to that farm every weekend, and he just fell in love with it.

“I had a goal that at some point in my life, I’d choose a career and would be able to move back there some day and live on the family farm, so that dream came true,” he said. “The farm has been in our family nearly 100 years, and in about another year or two, we look forward to applying for the Hoosier Homestead Award.”

Don retired June 30, 2015, after 31 years of being a dentist and having his own practice.

His father died in 2018, and his mother, Lois Cummings, lives in Seymour.

“Don’s parents moved here around 2000, and after my parents retired, they moved here, too, to be near us and the grandkids,” Barb said. “We have two daughters and six grandchildren. One daughter lives 2 miles from us, and the other lives in Seymour.”

Don said he has liked John Deere tractors since he was about 2 or 3, and that has been his hobby.

“I was around that age when I got my tonsils out, and I remember Dad came to the hospital and brought me a little John Deere toy tractor, and I distinctly remember that,” he said. “I plowed around in the dirt by some bushes with that toy tractor.”

Don now has a small collection of six full-size, older John Deere tractors and all are still very useful for small functions on a small farm.

He doesn’t farm on their property anymore. Instead, they rent the ground to a friend and then in turn, Don helps them operate their equipment.

Among the tractors he owns, one in particular has been surprisingly popular, especially with the John Deere world headquarters.

“I’ve owned a 1977 John Deere 4430 tractor for 20 years, and it has been a great tractor for me and has had very few repairs,” Don said. “I’ve always tried to keep it in good condition.”

Several years ago, in one of the tractor magazines Cummings reads, there was an ad for anyone who had a very nice condition 4430 John Deere to send a photo because they were interested in a picture for a calendar.

“I sent in a snapshot and got a letter just a few days later saying they really liked the tractor and asked for more pictures, so I sent more,” he said. “Shortly after that, I got a call saying John Deere and company had chosen my tractor to be in their 175th anniversary calendar for the month of May 2012.”

Barb said the official John Deere photographer showed up early in the morning at their farm and stayed all day taking pictures of the tractor with different settings and locations to get just the right one for the calendar.

“It turned out to be a really neat picture, and I’ve still got several of the calendars,” Don said. “The calendar was worldwide, and it was just an incredible opportunity.”

John Deere also created a small die-cast toy tractor, the same model as Cummings’ 4430. The cardboard packaging bears the same photo of Don and his tractor that was featured in the calendar.

“They sold them at the John Deere store here in town about a year or so ago,” he said. “I happened to get a call one day from a salesman at the local John Deere who was helping stock the toy rack and told me my picture was on the toy.”

Don said he had no idea, so they ordered some more and bought a few to have for the kids and grandkids, and he and Barb kept a couple.

“When he got his picture taken for the calendar, he signed off on it so they can use that picture however they want,” Barb said. “It’s possible it could pop up again somewhere.”

A few months ago, Don received another call from John Deere.

“They wanted a nice looking, older tractor of the appropriate vintage and quality that could pull their new planter,” he said. “They asked if I’d loan my 4430 John Deere to them to be on display at the National Farm Machinery Show hooked up to the beautiful new planter they were getting ready to release.”

In preparation for the farm show in Louisville, Kentucky, Don said he had some help from Bryan Myers, who helped paint the 1977 tractor in his paint booth.

“I had painted part of it 20 years ago and asked Bryan for help. He’s a really talented welder and painter,” Don said. “He also owns some cows and he farms a little.”

Don said he continues to plant with his 4430 to bush hog and different things but likes to keep it nice and shiny.

While he and his wife were at the farm show, they had a chance to visit with Seymour native Katie Stam Irk, who was Miss America in 2009.

“It’s a wonderful story highlighting a local farmer, and obviously, we are very proud and happy for Don,” Irk said. “This was a huge honor, and it certainly sparked a ton of enthusiasm at the National Farm Machinery Show.”

Don said he was Katie’s dentist ever since she was 3, and he helped make sure her smile was perfect to be Miss America.

He and Barb are good friends with Katie’s aunt and uncle, Karla and Brian Thompson.

“Now, I’m kind of retired from farming but still have my tractors, and I farm for Brian,” he said. “He’s a farmer in the Cortland area, and they farm a large portion of Freeman Municipal Airport.”

Retirement allows more time for their grandkids, and he and Barb have gone on some trips in the past, but COVID-19 is interfering with that at the moment.

“I do have some hobbies and like to read, go hunting and I really enjoy fixing things, and if there’s a broken toy, the grandkids will bring it to me to fix,” Don said. “I also like tinkering with the tractors and taking them apart and fixing what’s wrong with them. I want to keep them original, and I’m always looking for those spare parts.”