Remembering the Harmon Farm of Riverton Township.

October 4, 2019

Joyce and Don Harmon

Ariel view of the Harmon’s Hawley Road farm.

Remembering the Harmon Farm of Riverton Township.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Editor’s Note: MC History Spotlight is a regular history column brought to you by Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care. This regular column features a story from our county’s past. Today, we feature the story of Joyce and Don Harmon. Joyce is a resident of Ludington Woods.

Family, faith, and farming. Those are the words that seem define the life of Joyce Harmon. For 50 years, she and her husband, Don, lived on the family farm on Hawley Road in Riverton Township and grew hundreds of acres of fruit. Joyce and Don were known as kind and generous employers who were progressive in promoting and marketing fruit farming in Mason County.

Joyce Jacqueline Johnson was born on March 1, 1926 in Milwaukee, Her parents were Ida and Stanley Johnson, who moved across Lake Michigan to Ludington when Joyce and her brother, Donald (aka “Corn”), were young. Stanley was a barber and Ida worked for Strait Steel and Wire and Montgomery Ward.

Joyce said one of the highlights of her childhood was when her parents would take her and Corn to the carferry docks and send them to their grandparents for the summer. “My parents would bring us to the boat docks and my dad would say, ‘Be good or else you don’t get to go back.’ We would then get on the boats from the Ludington docks, by ourselves, and our grandparents would meet us at the docks in Milwaukee.”

Joyce attended Foster Elementary School and graduated from Ludington High School, class of 1944. She worked a few years at Lewis Drug Store in downtown Ludington and attended business college in Lansing. On Oct. 25, 1946 she married Don Harmon and began a new life of farming.

Don was a sixth generation Riverton Township farmer. His third-great-grandparents, Elias (1813-1880) and Susan Slear (1816-1900), came to Riverton Township and began farming about 1872 from Kartzerville, Penn. Their daughter Rose (1829-1926) and her husband, Franklin Harmon (1836-1912) also moved to Riverton Township in 1872.

A sub-headline to Rose Harmon’s April 20, 1926 obituary stated that Rose and Franklin “Developed wilderness in Riverton into beautiful fruit farm.” Her obituary also stated that “they, like so many others of that time, were attracted by the opportunities awaiting in the undeveloped country and settled in the wilderness in Riverton, on what is now the famous Harmon fruit farm.” The obituary continued that Rose Harmon “was a potent force in the development of Riverton.”

Joyce Harmon

Franklin and Rose had three children, Ada (later Jameson), Mazie (later Stowell), and Jerome. Jerome (1863 to 1938) and his wfie Emma (Houk, 1867-1942), bought Franklin and Rose’s farm, located on Kinney Road west of Stiles Road adjacent to the present-day farm of Jim and Ruth Dittmer. 

Their three sons were Raymond (1888 to 1966), Elery (1889-1951) and Harold (1894-1973). While Harold remained on the farm on Kinney Road, Raymond purchased farm land in the 2100 block of Hawley Road, between Stiles and Schwass roads, across from the modern site of Riverton Township Hall. There, he raised dairy cows along with strawberries.

Raymond married Eva Mears (1894-1943) and they had two children, Helen (later Wilson) and Donald (1925-2008).

Donald grew up on the family farm and went to school at nearby Riverton District No. 3, Center (Jones) School, located on the southwest corner of Hawley and Schwass roads. He later attended and graduated from Ludington High School, where he met Joyce.

Joyce and Don had three daughters, Christy (husband, Warren Abrahamson), Cynda (Jim Greenman), and Cheryl (Gib Felmlee).

Don and Joyce transitioned the farm operation from dairy to fruit and invested in several hundred acres of surrounding land. They raised tart and sweet cherries, apples, peaches, pears and plums.

“Harmon Orchards was truly a family-run business,” said Warren “Gene” Abrahamson, Joyce’s son-in-law. “All three daughters worked with their parents on the 400-acre, 14 tractor farm. The daughters cultivated fruit trees, drove loads of fruit to the packing company, drove forklifts to move fruit, assisted the harvest of cherries, peaches, pears, plums, and apples, and helped with many other chores.”

Don and Joyce were instrumental in advancing the business of fruit farming in Mason County. Don was one of the founders of the Mason County Fruit Exchange, which was a cooperative of local fruit farmers, assuring advanced marketing of their commodity.

“In the early days there wasn’t always a place to go with the cherries,” Gene said. “Don and several other farmers saw this as an issue and resolved it by forming the fruit exchange.” That fruit exchange today continues to operate as Indian Summer Cooperative.

While Don tended to the care of the trees and the land, Joyce tended to the bookkeeping, employees and the family.

“Everyone who worked for us looked forward to break time when Mom would bring cookies out to the orchards. She was famous for her desserts,” Christy said, adding that Joyce was also well-known for bringing out chicken dinners to the workers.

Don and Joyce Harmon

“We still have people tell us that they remember her chicken dinners,” Christy said.

Joyce was also in charge of quality control of the cherries.

“Mom would go in the orchard and help with the cherry tanks,” Christy said. “She would pick out the bad ones, by hand, and would insist that we only sold the best cherries.”

Don and Joyce were also active in bringing electricity to rural Mason County. Don spent many years on the REA (Rural Electric Act) board. They travelled to many conventions. Don also served on the State Savings Bank of Scottville board of directors.

“I really enjoyed farming,” Joyce said. “Don just did everything right.”

Joyce devoted her life to family, friends, church, and to serving others. She is a member of the St. Paul United Methodist Church in Riverton Township, and was an active volunteer at Ludington’s Memorial Hospital (now Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital), American Red Cross, and with Meals on Wheels in Florida. She was a member of the Lincoln Hills Country Club and Kings Point Golf Club in Florida (she was a very good golfer) and Elks Club.

For several decades, Joyce and Don enjoyed spending winter at their home in Sun City Center, Fla. and summer at their home in Riverton Township.

Joyce and Don retired from farming in 1996, after spending 50 years on the farm. Don passed away on April 23, 2008.

At 93-years-old, Joyce now lives at Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care where she enjoys visits from her family and friends. She has had six grandchildren, Jill Abrahamson (passed away in 2019); Drew Greenman, Cody Greenman, and Cody Greenman (passed away the year of his birth); Donald Felmlee and Nick Felmlee. She also has six great-grandchildren.

Sharing life’s journeys at Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care, 502 N. Sherman St., Ludington, MI 49431; 231-845-6100; www.ludingtonwoods.com.

Celebrate Riverton Heritage Day on Saturday, Oct. 19 at the Riverton Township Hall from 1 to 4 p.m. Read more here.

This story is copyrighted © 2019, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

Betten Baker Ford

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