March 31, 2023

McCormick Century and Heritage Farm Redirected

By Curt Swarm

“The whole land of Canaan ... I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants ... and I will be their God.” Genesis 17:8

An icon of Cannan Township in Henry County, Iowa — “The Single Richest Township of Land in the World” — is being redirected. On March 29 at 10: a.m., Mac Farms, Inc will have an online auction of its equipment and John and Gene McCormick can take it easy. Sort of.

In 1857 Michael McCormick came over from Ireland during the potato famine. He married Margaret. They had eight children. Two of the sons died when they were very young. Gene McCormick (Uncle Gene), in his 90s, is the youngest and only living grandson of Michael McCormick. John McCormick is a Great Grandson.

Michael McCormick started working at the State Hospital in Mt. Pleasant as a night watchman. But his hands itched to be in the soil. He acquired some ground, and eventually wound up in Cannan Township, NE of Mt. Pleasant. First the marsh had to be drained. Not coincidentally, their address was listed as 1880 Marsh Ave.

The offspring of Michael McCormick’s family grew to be in the hundreds and includes such notable names as Panther, Fitzpatrick, Hurly, Messer, Peetz and many more. Panther is of the Panther Rexall Drug fame in Mt. Pleasant and the Hamburg Inn in Iowa City. Dennis Fitzpatrick had Fitzpatrick Pharmacy, which was in Dave’s SuperValu in Mt. Pleasant. Governor Kim Reynolds worked there as a young woman.

Every five years the McCormicks have a huge family reunion that brings in hundreds of relatives from around the world. There are hay rides, volleyball, softball (cow pies for bases), runs, golf, barbecue and homemade ice cream, with the kids taking turns at the crank.

The kids noticed that some of the tractors on the farm were named after their grandpa — McCormick. Well, wouldn’t you know.

Pleasant Lawn School is nearby where many of the McCormick kids went to school, first grade through 12. John’s daughters, Laura and Michelle, are fourth-generation McCormicks to have attended Pleasant Lawn.

John McCormick started farming at age five. His father was disabled and died when John was a teenager. Hence, John took on the responsibility of farming the McCormick farm with his uncle Gene and brother Pat. John tried a little college, but farm work took too much of his time.

John married Denise of Mt. Pleasant and moved her to the farm. When the droughts of ‘83 and ‘88 hit, along with the Farm Crisis of the 80s, with interest rates at 18 percent and higher, and many farms going under (and worse), Denise asked John what he wanted to do. “I think I can make it work,” he said. And he did. He drove an old, rusty, beat-up pick-up truck, raised hogs to supplement failing grain prices, and made it work.

Denise knew well the old saying, “There is no better demonstration of faith than a man planting seeds in a field.” She put herself through college and became an elementary school teacher, teaching in every school in the Mt. Pleasant School District, including Pleasant Lawn.

John became so successful at farming that he was the number-one corn and soybean producer for Pioneer and then Becks for 33 years.

But now it’s time for John, always a half-full-glass kind of guy, to redirect his energies. What he liked best about farming was the freedom. He had the freedom to cope with the good times and bad. John is a man of few words, but he does say this, “There’s no need to worry about things you don’t have control over. We are blessed and I am grateful.”