Posted By | March 31, 2008 12:00 am

Life’s joys. Charles poses with his granddaughter, Reanna.

Charles Gillen was born Nov. 15, 1933, to Clarence and Edith “Geer” Gillen and grew up in the Cherry Creek community.
“Farming was his passion,” said Francis, his wife of 53 years. “From the time he was a kid, he knew he wanted to be a farmer.”
His parents were farmers, and he started working on their farm as a young boy. He was involved in FFA, Future Farmers of America. And he worked hard improving his skills.
“That was his life,” stated Francis. “And he didn’t want to have just another calf. He wanted a better calf. He wanted a better milk cow and a better type cow.”
He also carried on the family tradition as a member of Cherry Creek Church of Christ his entire life.
Like many men from his generation, he had to work on the farm because his parents needed him. He couldn’t play sports, although he wanted to.
“He never played sports,” said Francis. “The football coach wanted him to go out. But his dad thought he needed to go home and help out.
In his senior year of high school, he began dating Francis Sewell. They graduated together in 1952. They married in 1955 and had three children including one girl, Ann Cobb of Raleigh, N.C., and two boys: Bill, of Cookeville, and Bruce, of Columbia, Tenn. They have five granddaughters and two grandsons.
“They were the joy of his life,” stated Francis about the grandchildren. “He said he could understand why they call them grand.”
The demanding work of farming made him a strong man, not only in physical strength, but also character. Not satisfied with just getting by, Charles educated himself on whatever he needed to know.
“He read all the time, said Francis. “He studied genetics. He built up a great Holstein herd. He wanted more crops per acre than he did the year before. He wasn’t happy with the status quo.”
The entire family did the farm work including the milking until the children started going to college. Francis affirmed that the farm taught the children good work ethics.
And the farmer’s job has difficulties most people don’t understand.
“I don’t guess that there’s a more stressful job than agriculture,” stated Francis. “There’s another saying, ‘farmers sell wholesale, buy retail and pay shipping both ways’.”
John Koger commented on Charles, as well as his and Francis’ farm operations. He called Charles “one of the smartest managers, not only in production but also financial management” he had known.
“They had one of the best dairy operations in the county – bar none,” said Koger. “They knew farming.”
“At the peak, we probably milked about 125 milk cows,” continued Francis. “But it wasn’t that way all the time. We got into the beef business, and we didn’t have enough land. And we rented, I think, about 800 acres. It got to the point any time a cow got out in Cherry Creek, they would call Charles whether it was his cows or not. They just assumed it was. That was just part of the job. He didn’t fret about it. And we were partners. I just went along with him.”
And farming is a year-round, full-time job. And to do it economically, many skills are needed.
“He was a mechanic,” said Francis. “He was a vet. He was an electrician. He could do carpentry. He just learned and knew. It just seemed to come natural to him. He could just fix things. If he didn’t know how to do it, he’d learn how to do it. We had 20- something electric motors that had to work every day to milk and feed [the cows]. We have been up nearly all night and then had to milk in the morning.”
He also found time to serve on several boards through the years. He believed in looking to the future, but taking care of the business at hand.
“He was a director at the Co-op for 30 years, I guess,” stated Francis. “He was president of the Tennessee Valley division of the Dairymen Board. He served on the Louisville Dairymen Board for four years. A few years ago, they had three county road commissioners, and he was chairman of that. He was on the O’Connor Utility Board for about 30 years. He was secretary/treasurer of that.”
Francis tells about his straightforward philosophy.
“He used to say ‘you got to get on with it. You can’t just lolly-gag around. You got to get on with it,’” stated Francis.
But, because he’d wanted to play sports when he was young, he knew the children would want to do their own things, too. Francis always tried to support Charles and the kids however she could. She told him she’d do what she could to make sure the kids were well rounded.
“If they can play sports or whatever, I’ll haul them back and forth,” said Francis. “And they did. They played football and some basketball and Little League.
Charles was the strong, silent type of man.
“He was a gentleman of a man,” stated Koger. “He was very calm and collected. When he did say something, you knew he had some smarts to him. He wasn’t just a basic guy.”
Francis relayed one of his favorite sayings; which was, ‘It is better to remain silent and appear a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.’
“He wasn’t a big talker,” said Francis. “But when he talked, people tended to listen to him.”
Even in his last few years when he was unable to farm, he dreamed about farming – chopping silage, looking for lost calves.
“I’d ask him if he’d had a good night, and he’d say ‘yeah,’” stated Francis. “I’d say ‘what happened?’ He’d say ‘oh, I dreamed.’ I’d say ‘what did you dream about?’ He’d say ‘baled hay all day.’ It was a good life in a lot of ways.
“It was stressful. We bought that farm in 1966, and we had to borrow every penny. All it had was about a 100-year-old barn on it and another one that was more recent. We had to go in and build a milk barn. At the time, it was a state-of-the-art milk barn. Now, it would be old-fashioned. You could milk four at a time. We built silos and a feeding bunk and what you call a “loafing” barn where the cows stayed out of the weather. We’d sit here and look back and wonder how in the world did we do all that.”
“He loved his family and extended family. He had a good memory. He loved White County. This was home. He was always interested in what was best for White County. He was an honest, good man with a lot of patience. He was a tenderhearted man. He didn’t like to see anything suffer.”
“And he loved the Lady Vols. If they were going to play late, he’d say ‘I’m gonna take an extra nap this afternoon so I can stay awake and watch them.’ And the San Antonio Spurs were his team. He liked Duncan and Parker. Of course, we watched a lot of football.”
Koger probably put it best in talking about Charles and his family.
“They are just a good family – good moral people,” stated Koger. “You can’t beat them.”

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