Marsha and John Elmo Butler have farmed the land of Delaware County for their entire lives.

The couple, who celebrated their 50th anniversary in July, first did so alongside their parents, Marshall and Dolores Houck of Dodge, and John E. and Clara May Butler of Whitewater.

Later, after they married and began their family, they began farming with their sons Kyle and Kreg.

Now, a fourth generation of Butler farmers have joined them, as grandsons Kash and Kord continue the family tradition.

On Saturday, Sept. 2, the Butler's efforts will be honored, as the couple are officially named the 2017 Delaware County Farm Family of the Year honor, at the Delaware County Free Fair. 

The ceremony, at 12:30 p.m., is slated to take place between the bucket calf showmanship and the livestock show, at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, located between Grove and Jay on Highway 10.

"This is an honor and a great big surprise," Marsha said with a smile. "I never dreamed of it, but it's very nice. We thank [the fair board] very much for this honor."

About the Butlers

While not high school sweethearts, the Butlers grew up "knowing each other" through the farming community and school.

Both graduates of Grove High School, she finished a year before him. He would later go off to junior college in western Oklahoma, and then college at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. While she became a seamstress. 

Eventually, the pair began, as John Elmo calls it "courting." In late 1965, early 1966, before John Elmo reported for the draft, the couple became engaged. 

A year later, he returned home - and within three weeks the couple pulled together of wedding - with Marsha making her dress, and those for her bridesmaids and flower girl, in record time. 

"I never dreamed that we would get hitched," John Elmo said, with a laugh. "But now we've been married for 50 years."

After a brief time at Fort Sill, while he finished his tour of duty as an engineer with the U.S. Army, the couple returned to Delaware County.

Eventually, they purchased a small farm near Marsha's parents in the Dodge Community. That property has grown from the initial 38-1/2 acres to encompass more than 700, with, with Kyle and Kreg living on nearby farms.

At one point, before Uncle Sam intervened, John Elmo was being courted for his baseball skills by scouts with the Kansas City Athletics organization. He was drafted for Vietnam before having his chance to try out.

"At one point I said if I don't make it as a baseballer I would go become a cattle farmer," John Elmo said. "Plan B was the only thing that worked out for me."

John Elmo said the farm has taken a lot of hard work, but it was a good place to raise their family and have a cattle operation which includes both Angus and Black Baldy. 

Marsha said their farm became the gathering place for Kyle and Kreg's friends throughout their school years, with many still referring to the couple as "mom and dad."

"We've had lots of boys out here," Marsha said. "I've cooked lots of dinners."

Through it all, the Butlers said farming in Delaware County has been worth it.

"I wouldn't trade this for anything," John Elmo said. "I wouldn't even trade it for a baseball career.

"[Instead] I try to raise a little feed to help feed the country."

Marsha agreed.

"I like the outdoors and not being cooped up in a close area," she said. "The beauty of all the things you can see in the country."

The couple hope their grandsons, Kord and Kash - Kreg's sons - will eventually take over the farm. The twins are members of the Starr 4-H and Grove FFA. 

"I think it will always be here, under their care," Marsha said. 

If You Go

2017 Delaware County Free Fair

Schedule of events

All events take place at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, located between Jay and Grove on Highway 10.

Tuesday, Aug. 29

• Indoor Exhibits

9 a.m. - Indoor exhibit judging begins

(non baked goods, flowers and live plants)

9 a.m. to 1 p.m. - Check in

(baked goods, flowers and live plants)

1:30 p.m. - Indoor exhibit judging continues

(baked goods, flowers and live plants)

• Poultry Show

3 to 4:30 p.m. - Registration

5 p.m. - Show starts

Wednesday, Aug. 30

• Indoor Exhibits

8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. - Open for viewing

Thursday, Aug. 31

• Indoor Exhibits

8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. - Open for viewing

Friday, Sept. 1

• Tractor Driving Contest

9 a.m. - Begins

• Indoor Exhibits

8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. - Open for viewing

Saturday, Sept. 2

• Delaware County Farm Show

9 a.m. to 3 p.m. - Open to the public

• Livestock Judging

9 a.m. - Contest begins

• Roadkill Chili Cook-off

11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. - Tasting kits available

• Bucket Calf Showmanship

11 a.m. - Contest begins in the arena

• Farm Family Presentation

12:30 p.m. - Farm family of the Year

• Livestock Show

8 to 9 a.m. - Livestock entry check-in

10 a.m. - Check in for commercial heifer pen

1 p.m. - Show includes beef, dairy, goats, sheep and swine.

• Mutton Busting & Greased Pig

Contest begins after livestock show ends

• Tractor Pull

5 p.m. - New contest starts this year

• All Exhibits

5 p.m. - Released

Just The Facts

Marsha and John Elmo Butler have two sons: Kyle and Kreg, both of the Dodge community.

Kyle and his wife, Teresa, have two children: Kati, who resides in St. Mary's, Georgia, and Kody and wife Emilea of Miami.

Kreg and his wife Erika have four children and one grandson: Koal of Fort Worth, Texas, Sage and son Rhett of Jay, and Kash and Kord of the home.