Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

Legacy of John Mc Donald


By Dub Ramsel  click on photo for a enlarged view
(These stories cover a period from early 1950's to the late eighties.  These stories have come from my memory with an occasional quote from some Williamson County residents.)


John H. Mc Donald was born on November 11, 1919 in Jonah, Texas. This day being Veterans Day was cause for a double celebration. His daughter Patti said that she thought every one was celebrating her Dad's birthday, and he did not tell her differently for some time.

I first became acquainted with John shortly after we moved to Georgetown and Williamson County in 1952. He and his wife Marie were long time members of the United Methodist Church and when we started going to that Church, and we were greeted warmly by the Mc Donald family. Their daughter Patti was the same age of our daughter Sherry. It was not long before we were visiting in each others homes.

John was farming several hundred acres of land in the Jonah area. He was an excellent farmer and if I remember correctly, won the Outstanding Farmer award that was sponsored by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.

John was left his farm by his mother, Mary Mc Donald. She had also been married previously to his father's brother and was left a widow. It did not set well with John H. Senior because he thought he should have inherited his brother’s farm. This caused a lot of animosity between father and son. There was an interim of time between the date of the will and the time he could take possession, which was age 18. Little John went to live with a half sister in New Mexico in order to keep peace with his old man. The "Old Man" is what he was always referred to in the family.

John Jr. was lacking one semester of finishing high school when he became eighteen and took over the farm. Since the old man had been farming the land and was supposed to be holding the proceeds for his son, but there was no funds left for this purpose. This put a hard ship on the boy, but he managed to sweat it out and soon began building himself a house on the highest point of the farm ,which was along Hwy 29 just west of Jonah.

I never knew anyone who had the energy to get things done as John. He learned enough about carpentry to get work on the side when things were laid aside on the farm. He also built up a small herd of cattle and put in soon laying hens. He became a good mechanic and welder and built a lot of his own implements on the farm. One day he showed me a three blade shredder that he had built from old truck differentials and pulled it behind his tractor.

Shortly after he finished building his house, he went looking for a wife and found her in Bertrum, Tex. She was Anna Marie Reed. She was just what he needed. She was a good home maker and could do a lot of the chores around the farm.

Some times John got in a storm, but he always worked his way out. Onetime he took off to Louisiana on some business and miss judged how much cash he needed. He had to have some work done on his truck and after paying the bill, was almost broke. He didn't take his check book along and did not believe in credit cards as yet. He had to hock his

spare tire and a carton of cigarettes to get enough as to get home. The worst thing about it all was having to drive all the way home without a smoke. I understand that he soon post himself a gasoline Company credit card.

Another time he went fishing for yellow cat fish. His method was to dive under the banks of the San Gabriel River and attach a rope through their gills and then haul them. One time he got caught in the roots of a tree and almost drowned before he got free but he got the fish.

The Mc Donald Family go back to William G. Mc Donald, who was post master of Jonah in 1895. This came up in Clara Scarborough’s book Land Of Good water. This was John Jr's Grand father. William had four sons of which John H. Sr. was one of the sons.

John and Marie who was also known as "Money" raised two children on the farm at Jonah. First came Jimmy and then Patti. Jim attended South Western University and then on to earn his PhD. in Chemistry. He worked for the Navy in doing research in the Washington area. He never came back to Georgetown. Patti married a class mate of Jimmie's and followed him to Houston, where she still resides. She is a professional in her own right by training in Physiotherapy. She runs her own office and does well with her work. She is living alone with two house cats. Her sons are grown and her husband left her several years ago. She will soon be retiring and wants to come back to Georgetown.

There was a time in the late sixties when the First Methodist church hit a low in membership. It also was at the time that the building was in bad need of repairs. The rain was coming in up in the steeple area. An estimate was done of the cost of repairing the damage and it was to cost over $150,000. Something had to be done and soon. There just was no money to do it and the banks were not able to take on that kind of loan. The Board members met several times and nothing came up to alleviate the situation. Then John, who was a member of the Board, said that he believed he could fix it if the materials could be arranged for. He needed to do an inspection to tell exactly how to go about it and how much material in way of lumber and tin was required.

Wallace Giddings was the only member that volunteered to help out with the assessment. He was also rather slim and could get into narrow passageways to start the job. Also, Wallace wrote a report about all the harrowing experiences that came along with getting up into the steeple. His story is attached to this story, so will not expound on it further. In summary, the job was done and the Church was saved over a hundred grand by these two men's labor. It was estimated that the repair job should last for another hundred years.

If John had had the same opportunity as he gave his son, he could have done great things. I never knew a man with more intelligence to go along with his energy. He was rough cut in manner and never hesitated to take on a job just because he had never done it before. He would, quickly, find out how to do it and, usually, finished in record time. He never learned that he was incapable of doing any lob that anyone else could do. You might say he was a "Jack of all trades" and master of many.

On a personal note, John was not only a good friend of mine, but he helped me hold my job with the Texas Extension Service as an Associate County Agent. The drought of the fifties caused me to have to seek employment until thins got better for the cattle raising business. Because of my degree in Agriculture from Texas A&M I was chosen for an agent to work with Individual farm families to assist them in better management of their business. Since I did not major in Agronomy or Agriculture Economics, I had just a short course from that University to prepare me for all the problems that-was facing the farmers. I therefore relied upon John Mc Donald Jr. to brief me an all sorts of matters pertaining to farming. He graciously became my mentor as well as a very good friend. I was able to read how things should be done; hut also knew that the best way was not always the cheapest route. I had already been told by older farmers that they had to do what they could afford. John got me on the right tract that worked for him and I soon found that it also worked for others. Not that John did not respect the tremendous amount of research that went in deriving at the best methods, but sometimes the methods had to be modified to fit the individual. I heard one farmer say that he was not farming half as good as he knew how, but just couldn't afford to do it the hest way.

After some down to earth schooling, with John Mc Donald, I concluded that the fastest way to go broke in farming was to give a son; who just graduated from any Agriculture school the checkbook and tell him to take over and put all his book learning to use. There are examples here in Williamson County that back up my observations in this matter. The new graduate needs to get down and study why things are done a certain way by the old man before making any change. Then the changes came be made gradually. Quite often the way that things have been done are the only way that works for the individual farm.

I learned more practical ways of managing a farm business from John. He had learned by hard knocks and should have gotten a degree from that institution.

After farming thirty five years John and Marie decided to sell out and live on a new spot of the farm that lay along the San Gabriel in a new home that they built. The sale of the row crop land was sold and everything went well for a couple of years. The part that was sold carried a note receivable that took care of all their needs and they were finally enjoying life in style. Both were in their mid fifties and it looked like everything was going their way. But in 1974 John was stricken by a heart attack and lived for a short time .He just could not slow down enough and follow the Doctors instructions he died from a massive attack on Oct 21, 1974.

I was honored to serve as one of the pall bearers and he was put to rest in the Capital Memorial Cemetery near Pflugerville. He could have been another victim of cigarettes.

This brings up another story as to why he decided to be buried some place other than the Jonah cemetery. Every time someone from the Jonah area died, John was asked to help dig the grave. For some reason it was felt that it showed more respect for the deceased to have this personal touch by friends. As it turned out, John was the one who ended up getting down in the pit and doing most of the digging. He had had enough of this, so he announced that he was not going to be buried in the Jonah Cemetery and also was not going to dig any more holes for graves. This stopped the hand digging and some one came in with a back hoe for all future Grave digging in Jonah.

I am sure there are others who missed this man more than I did, but my feelings were deep for him and I still ask when a problem arises, "What would John Mc Donald have done?'

I cannot close until I tell how I was conned into neutering a tom cat. John put it to me this way. There used to be a County Agent here who was good at castrating male mules. Now if you want to prove to me that you are as capable as old nor Brown, then you can start by cutting the balls off this tom cat. Woe, what a challenge. Tom knew I had to do it or else, so asked if he had a toy sack that we could wrap the cat up in, and he did. Now, when we get him restrained so he can't claw me or bite, I will do the honors. I had never done this before, but to my surprise, one slash of the scalpel ended this cat’s career as a tom cat. John then turned him loose and opened the door. There was hardly any blood but a brown streak followed the cat through the door. Two weeks later the cat showed up and took up his position on the hearth as if nothing had happened.


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