Family's deep-rooted Cowboy tradition stretches back four generations
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
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With a gift to the New Frontiers campaign, Bob and Ginny Sherrer are memorializing the man they say is responsible for planting their family’s roots at Oklahoma State University.
“Our family ties to OSU really begin with my daddy,” Ginny Sherrer said of her late father, Vincent Garner. “He was an incredible man whose life story represents the values that are so important to the Oklahoma State culture.”
The Sherrers are one of over 200 donors who have contributed to the $50 million fundraising campaign that will create a new teaching, research and Extension facility for the Ferguson College of Agriculture. Remaining naming opportunities within the building range from $25,000 to several million dollars.
When the facility opens in the fall of 2023, the Vincent Garner Soils Lab will welcome students eager to learn about agronomy. The first-floor lab is a fitting tribute to Garner, whose story is full of grit, determination and one instance of hitchhiking.
Born in 1911, Garner was the sixth of eight children who grew up on a farm near Lexington, Oklahoma, in Cleveland County.
“We believe Daddy graduated high school when he was about 19 or 20 years old, but we knew education was very important to him,” Ginny said. “He was a very studious person who loved to read, and he knew that he was going to go to Oklahoma A&M and study agriculture.”
Garner had to delay his dream of attending Oklahoma A&M when his father, John, became ill. To help support his family, Garner joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a program that allowed unemployed single young men the opportunity to earn wages to send back to their family through public works projects.
“Daddy signed up for the Civilian Conservation Corps, and his group was sent to Wyoming,” Ginny said. “They’d sign you up for six months at a time and would pay each man $30 a month, $25 of which had to be sent back home.”
Garner’s mother, Louella, was very frugal and began saving a portion of that $25 each month to pay for his college.
“Even during the struggles of the Great Depression, my granny was creative and always found a way to make money,” Ginny said. “Whether it was selling eggs or other small things, she always had her own income so she could save as much of Daddy’s checks as possible for him to go to college.”
Over a two-year span, Garner did two stints with the CCC, finally returning home around 1937. His mother asked him if he still planned on going to college. He answered yes, saying that furthering his education was the only way to better his life and his family’s lives.
“Daddy started college at 26 or 27, which was very unusual, but he had it in his mind that it was something he had to do,” Ginny said. “He packed up his tin suitcase, and Granny gave him the money she had saved, which ended up being about $40.”
Garner hitchhiked more than 100 miles from Lexington to Stillwater. He arrived on campus knowing he needed a place to live and a job.
“Daddy was very well-spoken and presented himself very well, so when he got to campus, he went to President [Henry] Bennett’s office, introduced himself, said he wanted to study agriculture and that he needed a place to live and a job,” Ginny said. “Dr. Bennett must have been so kind, because he said, ‘OK, I can help you.’”
"Daddy learned so much at OSU, and he passed it on to his daughters, and we’ve passed it to our kids."
Garner was sent out to one of the research barns and jumped into a job immediately. He was admitted into the College of Agriculture and became interested in soil. While at OSU he became an active member of the agronomy club. He married Ginny’s mother, Connie, in 1940 and graduated with a degree in agronomy in 1941.
“After he graduated, Daddy applied for a job with the [U.S.] Department of Agriculture, and he got one that took him and my mother to Kenbridge, Virginia,” Ginny said. “So that was a new adventure for them, but ultimately Daddy had the goal to get back to Oklahoma.”
While in Kenbridge, the couple had their first daughter, Margaret, in 1943; Ginny was born a year later. Soon after, Garner was transferred to Soil Conservation Services, which led to his family moving to Antlers, Oklahoma, where his youngest daughter, Nancy, was born in 1949. He spent the next 40 years with Soil Conservation Services.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he planted the seed of an OSU family tradition that now spans four generations.
“My sisters, their husbands and their children are all graduates,” Ginny said. Her husband Bob, who also holds an agronomy degree from OSU, added that they have two grandsons on the OSU wrestling team — Sam and Bennett Sherrer.
Bob was a member of the soils judging team while at OSU and the soil monolith he brought from home is still used to this day as a teaching aid. The couple have been great supporters of the OSU Alumni Association, giving to its endowment fund and the Alumni Traditions Society Fund. In addition, they have two memorial scholarships for their son, Cordell, who they lost in a farming accident when he was 13.
With the naming of the soils teaching lab in Vincent Garner’s honor, they are ensuring the memory of his selflessness and commitment to his family will carry on through the years.
“Daddy learned so much at OSU, and he passed it on to his daughters, and we’ve passed it to our kids,” Ginny said. “He loved his time at OSU, he loved the land and sacrificed so much for his family, so we are so excited to honor him like this.”
Photos By: provided by Ginny and Bob Sherrer
Story By: Kyle Stringer | STATE Magazine