OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, FOOD AND FORESTRY
2800 N. Lincoln Boulevard, Oklahoma City, OK 73105-4912
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May 31, 2018
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Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture
Highlight: Kathleen Maher, Mary White
By Bryan Painter
DICKSON – “We learned to work beyond the time we wanted to stop because the work was necessary and time sensitive,” Kathleen Maher said.
Practicing good stewardship of the land is a common motivator among agriculture producers. However, for many it goes deeper than that, all the way down to being a good steward of the family name.
The lives of sisters Kathleen Maher and Mary White of Dickson are excellent examples of what that looks like. The common denominator between the two is obviously their parents, who are the focus of many of their stories.
John and Nancy (Mills) Maher were married 55 years before Nancy passed away at age 83 in December 2014. Their father passed away about a year ago in June at age 89.
Every day the sisters strive to not only enhance their ag operations, but to be good stewards of the family name.
“It is a result of our upbringing by parents who truly lived their values and kept their priorities in order,” White said. “Our debt to them will never be repaid.”
Mary and husband Keith White have about 150 acres of Bermuda sod in their Washita Valley Sod, Inc. business. They also farm with Kathleen in addition to Mary and Kathleen’s brother Sean on the family property. There, they raise cow-calf retained stockers and hair sheep. Their operation also includes pecans, small grains winter pasture, haylage and Bermuda and Crabgrass hay.
However, to understand how they reached today’s operation requires a closer look at first their childhood and then how that has helped them withstand challenges.
Never stop learning
Nancy Maher kept the family’s five children – Mary, Kathleen, Peggy, Trish and Sean – well-loved, well-fed, well-prepared and well-traveled to many church, 4-H, sports and band activities.
It was their father, who gave them a definition of what it means to take care of the land and livestock.
John Maher was a big man, with a big laugh who was even-tempered. The blue-eyed farmer and rancher believed in ag diversification, growing wheat, corn, peanuts, soybeans, rye, oats, cotton, pumpkins, and pecans. He had cattle, plus he also had a watermelon patch each year.
Maher said their dad had a thirst for knowledge and was an early cooperator of the Noble Foundation, now the Noble Research Institute.
White added about the Noble Research Institute, “We have continued to consult with them through the years on all sorts of subjects. They are included in the never-stop-learning department.”
In fact, Maher said White reminds her of their dad when she has “a willingness to try something outside of personal knowledge and experience and is willing to seek out and listen to one who has expertise in the field.”
Besides a desire to learn, their dad also had a sense of humor.
Maher tells a story about a friend who was working for their dad.
“We were building a fence and had a large hole dug for the corners; the friend was trying to make sure the post was straight up,” Maher said. “Unfortunately, he asked out loud if it was straight. The quick reply from dad was ‘Are you saying you can’t tell straight up from a hole in the ground?’”
That sense of humor has been carried on.
Jay Franklin of Vinita served with White on the Oklahoma Farm Service Agency State Committee.
“She was always a joy to be around,” he said, “and she never came to a state committee meeting without a fresh joke for us.”
So, White was asked to share one.
“Miss Jones, the kindergarten teacher had a math question for her class,” White said. “She said, ‘If the farmer has 12 sheep and six of them jump over the fence, how many are left?’ Little Jack raises his hand and he said, ‘None.’
“Miss Jones said, ‘Now Jack, none? You don’t know your math facts.’ He said, ‘No, Miss Jones, you don’t know sheep, if one goes, they all go.’”
Looking back, Maher also described their father as a man who wouldn’t work to a problem but rather through a problem. That is why he diversified, and why they have done the same.
At times, for the sisters, that has meant seeking some off-farm income, or changing the size or focus of the operation. Yet, they cling to that appreciation of what agriculture means to their family as well as others.
“Farming and ranching is so dependent on things outside of your control,” White said, mixing fact with humor. “The Serenity Prayer gets a workout.”
Maher said, “It goes back to work beyond the time you want to stop. Be grateful for what you have, don’t be ashamed to do what is necessary, and pray.”
Never letting go
Stewardship of the family name has taken on different looks for the sisters through the years.
Maher, who has a bachelor’s in animal science and a master’s in ruminant nutrition, worked for what is now the Farm Service Agency in Alfalfa County, in addition to being a farmer and a rancher.
Her involvement in agriculture organizations/groups includes Vice Chair of the Oklahoma Ag Leadership Program Advisory Council and service on the Oklahoma State University Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Dean's Advisory Council as well as various committees with the Noble Research Institute.
White said Maher’s service and participation in agriculture organizations reminds her of their dad.
“They both have a vast array of friends and acquaintances from everywhere they have been in life,” White said. “They don’t forget people they have met and things about them. They always know someone wherever they go.”
Mary and Keith married right after she graduated from OSU in 1982 with a bachelor of science in agricultural economics. She worked for a bank for a while and the couple helped his parents with their operation. Mary and Keith later transitioned to their own ag operation. They grew peanuts, corn and wheat and had stocker cattle and a cow-calf operation.
“I have always been the bookkeeper and a cowhand and whatever someone needed help with on a particular day,” White said. “Currently my duties have expanded to include ‘Head shepherd’ and ‘Director of first-calf heifers.’”
As the sisters reflect on maintaining good stewardship of not only the land, but the family name, Maher remarked, “We had a high standard to follow.”
Editor’s note: This is part of a continuing series of stories on Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture. The project is a program of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry to recognize and honor the impact of countless women across all 77 counties of the state, from all aspects and areas of the agricultural industry. The honorees were nominated by their peers and selected by a committee of industry professionals.
Photo Caption: Sisters Mary White and Kathleen Maher of Dickson, are being recognized as Significant Women in Oklahoma Agriculture.