SOUTH MOUNTAIN — After a lifetime farming, from milking cows to plowing fields, Dale and Lois Keyes recently finalized the sale of their South Mountain-area farm and donated $1 million from the proceeds to the Winchester District Memorial Hospital.
It came as a surprise to everyone but them. With no children and eyeing retirement in recent years, the Keyes’ knew they wanted to make some kind of contribution to the community. And it just so happened that the now-72-year old Dale had made use of the hospital many years ago.
Back in 1957 when he was in Grade 3, he broke his leg so badly that the bone was sticking out. A doctor had to straighten out his leg with no anesthetic before driving him to the hospital, where he spent six weeks on his back being fussed over by the kindly medical staff.
He recovered, and went on to a long career in the farming and electrical industries. Raised on the family farm, he milked cows growing up with his parents and brother Dean until the brother split the farm between them in 1989. Dean took over the dairy farm.
After that it was cash cropping, working as an electrician and a stint with beef cattle, although “I didn’t make any money with that.” Most years he was a cash cropper and invested mostly in farmland, back when you could buy an acre in Eastern Ontario for $1,000, he said. “I had one guy ask ‘how does a farmer give $1 million away?’”
His secret? “I bought land at a really good price and cleaned it up.”
The couple wanted children but it never happened. They looked into adoption but “it went on and on and on,” said Keyes. “That’s what we wanted, was children. But it doesn’t always work.”
Keyes’ brother Dean farms just across the road and bought about 200 of the 435 acres, with the rest going to other farmers in the area. The familial sale included the original 100 acres, first bought by his great-great-grandfather John Keyes, an Irish immigrant, back in 1830. The sale includes their home and the deal was they get to stay in it for another 19 years.
Keyes isn’t done with farming exactly. There’s always the opportunity to hop back in the combine to help his brother. But retirement made sense, and the chance to give back to the community they’ve lived in for so long was a welcome one, he said.