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Father’s Day legacy left by sharecropper (audio)

Dorothy Simmons had Georgia on her mind.

Ocilla, Ga., that is.

She moved here in 1954 from the small farming community, but neither the feel of the soil on her fingers nor the life lessons she learned as a girl working on a farm ever left her.

They were her father’s gifts.

Claude Miller was a south Georgia sharecropper and worked until 1994 when he passed at 79.

“My daddy loved farming. He loooved it,” said Dorothy, now a 74-year-old great-grandmother in Palmetto.

She was 18 when she and first husband Alfonso Anderson arrived in Bradenton and settled in the Rogers Garden Apartments. Though times have changed, she felt an immediate kinship with rural Manatee County.

“When I came here there was more farming and families going out on those farms,” Dorothy said. “The daddies, the mamas, the children, all of them teaching them about work ethic.

“I know that’s how we were on the farm. Daddy telling us about life. I know farming isn’t easy, but it had good in it. It taught you something.”

The eldest of Miller’s four children, Dorothy, her siblings and their mother, Parrie Lee, helped him plant and pick corn, cotton, peanuts and tobacco.

They started out with a mule and a plow, then learned to drive a tractor.

“We worked that farm, gave it what it was supposed to have,” she said. “We put those plants down, fertilized them, it rained, they grew. It was just great.

“Daddy didn’t have any lazy children.”

They had no choice.

As a sharecropper their father had to pay the landowner a hefty percentage.

Hiring help was out.

“He said, ‘You are giving away profit when you hire people. We’re going to do it. We’re going to make the profit,’ ” Dorothy recalled.

Their pay was $3 a day — “Prime wages,” she joked — but money can’t buy the lessons learned.

Dorothy worked 21 years at Manatee Memorial Hospital, three at Doctors Hospital and another 21 at Freedom Village.

Her own five children went onto college and careers in business, education, government and nursing.

“Daddy could read, but he couldn’t write,” Dorothy said. “His daddy kept him out of school to work the farm, but he was not going to do it to his children.”

A Father’s Day legacy.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Please call Vin at 745-7055, write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com.

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