Some folks I know are already chowing down on their early homegrown vegetables, and they know exactly when they’re going to plant the next thing and how they’re going to freeze it, can it, pickle it or cook it when the right time comes. Now, these are backyard gardeners — no competition for some of the full-time farmers in my family tree, and especially no threat to the legendary status of the two fellas featured here. The first one lived to the age of 96 and the second to 92, so they must have been doing something right . . . including eating their vegetables.
Zachary Wilhoit Clore was born in 1874 in Oldham County, Kentucky. He was my 4th cousin 3 times removed.
At the Oldham County Historical Society, I found an undated newspaper article from The Oldham Era. It tells Zach’s story better than I could.
PROSPECT’S CHAMPION OF THE GOOD EARTH
At 94, Zach Clore is a successful farmer and philosopher, too.
Here is a success story with an original twist. As a barefoot country boy, Zach Clore trekked to a one-room school house in the days “when we wouldn’t have known what to do with two rooms.” But he didn’t leave home to work his way to the presidency of some big industrial concern. Zach loved the soil too much. His great ambition was to become the best farmer of the countryside – and he succeeded, as many a blue ribbon won at county fairs will attest.
Among the farmers around Prospect, out in Jefferson County, Zach has all the prestige of a Supreme Court justice and the Old Man of the Mountains, and he looks a little like both. He is 94 years old now, and “that’s a heap of livin’,” as he will tell you, but there’s a lot more of life that Zach intends to be on hand for.
Although he was 50 when he took his first trip out of the State, he claims he has seen “just about everything there is to see in the U.S.A. As a boy, if I got to town once in a year I was satisfied,” he recalls. He drove a jolt cart to market. At 27 he was managing three farms. When he was 50, “just after McKinley’s inauguration,” he went to Washington. Trips to Chicago, St. Louis and farther west followed. Zach finds nothing extraordinary in the fact that at 85 he traveled all the way to California alone to visit his brother, and that at 90 he took a trip to New York and Philadelphia with a young schoolteacher.
In mustache and carriage Zach resembles retiring Chief Justice Hughes, for whom he has a deep admiration – though he claims he had the mustache first. Zach doesn’t walk with a cane. “How could I hoe my garden with a cane!” That garden is close to three acres, and no one else is permitted to pull even a weed. The only difference between it and any other garden is that vegetables and flowers which grow there always turn out like the pictures on the seed package. Last year the watermelons weighed 75 pounds.
Zach was 15 years old when the Civil War came, and the countryside was flooded with Union soldiers who emptied your corn crib and “didn’t give you nothin’ for it.”
In those days Louisville “wasn’t much bigger’n Brownsboro.” It was long before wealthy Louisvillians discovered that the bubbling limestone springs around Prospect were the finest to be found for knitting strong bones of thoroughbred horses. In fact, the Nethertons, the Mounts, the Clores and the Triggs were the only families for miles around.
When he wasn’t plowing, shucking corn or harvesting wheat, Zach attended a school where the “schoolmaster would whip you like the dickens” for the smallest prank. Still Zach believes he had more fun as a boy than the young generation today.
“Youngsters didn’t go tearin’ around the countryside in automobiles with girls in skimpy skirts smokin’ cigarettes with rouged lips. We used to go on picnics out in the woods. The boys cleaned off a nice spot, and we’d dance all day and half the night.”
Zach played the bass fiddle in a band made up largely of Clores. Instead of going to movies, they played checkers. Zach has yet to meet the man, or woman, who can beat him at that game.
He was 27 when he married Alice Netherton. They had three sons, but none of them lived to raise a family.
When Zach was 9 years old he watched with awe as workers baked bricks for a fine new house on the corner of the Blackbridge and River Roads, which James Trigg was building for his bride. The three generations of Triggs who lived and died there were Zach’s friends. Around 1915 the house was bought by Judge James P. Edwards, and Zach saw the rearing of the seven Edwards children. He and the jovial judge used to sit on the front steps and discourse for hours on why Midway was such a great sire and what was the best breed of hunting dogs, while youngsters climbed over their legs. . . .
In 1913, when Zach was 67, he sold his farm and bought a little house with four acres of land in Pewee Valley. His wife died in 1927 and he came to live with her sister, Nina Russell, just across the Blackbridge Road from the old bridge house. “I used to plow corn right on the spot where this house was built,” he will tell you.
When he isn’t digging in his garden, Zach likes to sit on the front porch, where you can hear the ticking of a clock he won for his peaches at a Fern Creek Fair, and wave at the farmers who walk past on their way to the Prospect general store. Zach likes for them to stop and chat.
Three years ago he was the proud recipient of a Bible presented by the Brownsboro Christian Church to its oldest member. Zach had a brother, Abram, who also lived to be 94. But Zach is sure he will live to “make that look like nothin’.” He had no recipe for longevity other than country air and hard work. He still loves to smoke strong tobacco in his pipe and occasionally enjoys a mint julep.”
[Note: Zach Clore died on June 8, 1943, at the age of 96.]
If you go on Ancestry.com, you can find out whether you’re related to anyone famous, or even to royalty. I found out that I am, indeed, related by marriage to a king . . . William Carr Lentz, husband of my third cousin once removed (Corilla Belle Duncan), was a bona fide international corn king.
Carr was born in Indiana in 1901 and lived in that state all his life, passing away in 1994 at the age of 92. This article from The Republic, dated January 10, 1994, tells the story of his fame.
A lot was said about Carr Lentz following his death Thursday at age 92.
The former Bartholomew County farmer packed a lot of living into those 92 years — farming, politics, community activities, concerns of the elderly, philanthropy.
He was well known and recognized. He was one of the original members of the United Way of Bartholomew County board. He was named the county’s senior citizen of the year in 1971. He was a trustee for Bartholomew County Hospital.
He was dedicated.
“I served with him on the hospital board for a number of years,” said Bob Brown, chairman of Home News Enterprises. “He hardly ever missed a meeting.”
And he was one of those quiet and respected leaders who got things done by working with other people. Columbus Mayor Bob Stewart remembers the stories his father, Lynn, told of the times he and Carr Lentz would sit down at the old Palms Cafe and make far-reaching decisions about the future of the county — all without outside consultants, mission statements and long-range plans.
But there is one thing about Carr Lentz’s life that has a niche of its own. It has a special niche in the history of Bartholomew County, Indiana and farming. It represents an era that died with his passing.
Carr Lentz was an international corn king.
In fact, he and Bartholomew County had a unique claim to fame in international corn king circles.
Three of them lived in Bartholomew County.
Carr Lentz was the last of the local kings to die. Marshall Vogler of Hope died in 1973, about the same time that Ralph Heilman, also of Hope, passed away.
“Dad was real close to Marshall,” Carr’s son, Tom, recalled Monday afternoon. “They would go to farm shows together, and they shared a lot of information about farming between them.”
Their shared honor of being corn kings had a lot to do with the closeness of their relationship. Marshall was a two-time winner for 1925 and 1929. Carr won his honor in 1935, and Ralph Heilman was the champ in 1924.
They haven’t crowned an international corn king for something like 40 years, but before the competition gave way to the popularity of hybrid corn, the title was considered a major achievement.
In fact, any conversation about Bartholomew County around the state usually contained some mention of it being the home of three international corn kings.
News stories about corn crops in Bartholomew County usually contained mention of the three corn kings. In 1957, the county and its kings were hosts for a reunion of all the previous champions. The event was chronicled in The Evening Republican under the heading, “Corn kings meet and talk their ears off.”
Until recently, corn was king in the Midwest. Competitions resembled agricultural world series.
For years, Bartholomew County farmers marked the season of the five-acre and 10-acre contests on their calendars just as they might plan for Christmas or Thanksgiving.
And some farmers weren’t above stretching the rules.
Bartholomew County Extension Agent Gene Eckrote remembers one competition he judged and a stalk that “had some of the best ears of corn I had ever seen.” Unfortunately, they were so good-looking that Gene took a closer look. “The fellow had glued one of the ears to the stalk.”
Tom Lentz remembers one story told by his dad about a farmer who entered a competition with old corn. “They took that pretty seriously because they suspended the farmer from competing in the contest for the rest of his life.”
Actually, Bartholomew County can lay only partial claim to Carr Lentz’s corn-king title. He won it for a crop he grew on a farm in Clark County. Six years later, he was forced to sell the land to the federal government, which converted it into the Charlestown Munitions factory.
But even that sale was affected by his status as corn king.
“Dad always felt that the title benefited him in the sale. Had he not been corn king, he probably wouldn’t have gotten as much money for his land as he did.”
Carr Lentz and his fellow farmers took their business seriously.
“In those days, farmers would go through their fields and when they found a nice, long ear they’d put it aside for seed corn,” Gene Eckrote said. “When it came to preparing for the international competition, farmers would spend days figuring out the best place to plant their tournament corn.”
In an era of computerized agriculture, the concept of international corn king might sound a bit hokey.
It wasn’t to the men who wore the crown. Sounding just like a college basketball coach or a major league baseball manager, one of the corn kings had this to say about the honor at the 1957 Bartholomew County reunion:
“It doesn’t pay to get cocky about being corn king. Somebody comes along just then and chops your head off.”
The last of Bartholomew County’s corn kings is now gone.
So is an era.