Joan Berns not ready to slow her active lifestyle just yet

Girls who grow up on the farm may move to town but their hearts often stay with the farm.

The cliche rings true for Joan Berns. Even though she’s lived in Peabody for nearly 60 years, she said she still considers herself “a farm girl-not a town girl.”

“I really always have been in agriculture and if you’re in agriculture, you stay in that,” she said.

Berns, 85, grew up in a stockman farmer’s family on grandfather Thomas M. Potter’s place, a mile east of town.

After attending college in California for a year, she earned her liberal arts degree at Baker University. Berns taught high school English and French in Whitewater for three years before she was married in 1942 to John, whose family had a ranch and stock cattle business in the Flint Hills.

The couple moved into an apartment in Peabody. She said they always had intended to build on the farm but never did.

“Children came along, and you need schools and church,” she said.

Even though Joan and John Berns lived in town, they kept their focus on the livestock business.

She said her husband, who died in 1986, bought stock cattle that came up from Mexico, Texas, Kentucky and Mississippi.

“He would bring them up, feed them and put on pasture on April,” she said.

While her husband oversaw the herds, Berns lent her assistance.

“I ran errands for supplies during haying season and cooked and kept track of the kids,” said Berns, who also served on the local school board and worked in the church.

She still owns pasture land used for grazing cattle.

“If you’re in it, you’re in it,” Berns said.

The same goes for her four children.

Son Fred lives on the original Potter farm, a half section. Her oldest son, Bruce, farms at Perry near Lawrence. Both daughters own pasture land in the Flint Hills by Burns.

“We kept (the land) in my family,” she said.

Because of her agri-business experience, she recognizes the inherent risks.

“Personally, it’s the last thing that I would want to do or that I wanted my sons to do because it’s too uncertain.

“You’re either putting up or gathering crops or worrying about the market and whether it’s going to rain or if there’s enough sun,” she said. “Of course, there aren’t any definite assurances in life, I know that.”

But rural life has plenty of pluses, she said, such as fresh produce, open spaces and chores that help teach children responsibility.

“I think probably the era of family farms is gone, which I think is too bad it was a very nice way of life,” she said.

Despite demands of running the cattle business, the Bernses managed to take annual trips at the end of February and early March.

They took their first trip in 1960, flying on one of the maiden passenger airline flights.

“We went to all the different countries in South America and had a wonderful time,” she said. They also traveled to the Orient, visited the ruins of Cambodia and took a cruise from Greece to Egypt.

“We never made reservations,” she said. “We always traveled by ourselves. We were fortunate that my mother was here to watch the children.”

Berns has strong ties to Peabody’s history.

Her husband’s father, traveling in a buckwagon, moved to Peabody from Hanover in 1893.

“They sold coal and molasses,” she said. “Then he gradually bought land and moved into the cow business.”

Her family heritage is an integral part of Peabody’s story.

Grandfather and grandmother Potter came to Kansas as newlyweds in 1868. A couple of years later, Potter, a Marion schoolteacher, bought land that became the town site for Peabody. After having the land platted, he and his friends organized the Peabody Town Company and offered lots for sale.

“Every house that was built had an orchard,” Berns said, a fact she discovered when reading the deeds.

Besides being a history buff, Berns said she golfs two or three times a week, plays bridge regularly, participates in a book club and stays active in Peabody United Methodist Church.

She recently returned from South Carolina, where she vacationed with her family at the beach.

“I bobbed around in the waves,” she said.

On the Fourth of July, Berns had 55 people at her house before the group gathered to watch Peabody’s annual fireworks display.

“It’s my favorite holiday,” she said. Berns remembers her mother firing Chinese firecrackers sent by relatives who lived in California.

“I’ve always loved the Fourth of July,” she said. “It was the first time that my husband and I really kissed.”

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