When Sam Parsons graduated from tiny Van Buren High School in west-central Indiana in the '50's, he couldn't have known that before his career ended, he would be pioneering the use of yield monitors and GPS on combines. Self-propelled combines and shelled corn were just making their way into the mainstream when he left high school.
Parsons went on to a career in Ag Engineering Extension at Purdue University. Already retired, he died of a brain tumor last week. A memorial service will be held for him on April 18 in Lafayette.
Known for basic work with farm machines, Parsons spent lots of time speaking at field days and winter meetings in the 1980's, addressing topics such as soil compaction and controlled traffic patterns. He was frequently quoted in Indiana Prairie Farmer on various subjects related to more efficient tillage and harvesting concepts.
File drawers in his office were stuffed with pictures, mostly black and white, from the '50s and '60s at Purdue, many featuring corn pickers and early combines. This was the agricultural world he served during the early part of his career.
In the '90s, Parsons became intrigued with yield monitors when they were introduced in the early part of the decade. He and his co-workers, including Dan Ess and Mack Strickland, spent as much time trying to educate farmers about how the data was collected and what they shouldn't do with the data as they did in promoting the new technology. Parsons was instrumental in the highly successful series of Precision Farming meetings sponsored by Farm Progress Companies in the mid-90's. He not only spoke at them, but also helped organize the programs for the meetings. These were key meetings held across the Corn Belt that helped various players in the infant industry interact with farmers.
On a personal note, Parsons was a favorite source for Indiana Prairie Farmer simply because he was knowledgeable yet down to earth, a university representative yet easily accessible. I snapped dozens of photos with Parsons for stories ranging from how to minimize traffic in ridge-till to how to adjust combine tire spacing, to how to minimize harvest losses in corn and soybeans.
After a time it became evident to me that Parsons often wore what appeared to be the same red-checked short-sleeved shirt. Whether it was the same one every time or not, I'm not certain. But in preparing for his retirement dinner, I decided I would get a laugh from him by buying him a brand new shirt- sure enough, red-checked.
What I didn't know was that he knew I was coming. When it was time for individuals to speak, I presented him with the box. I was shocked when he presented me with one as well. Inside was the well-worn red-checked shirt he wore for many of those photos- the original one. "I knew you would do this," he chuckled. I still have his old red-checked shirt, still in the box he gave it to me in.
That was Sam Parsons, a Hoosier boy who made good and served fellow Hoosiers, primarily farmers, with common-sense, dedication and a flare for seeing the light and best side in every situation. We're all better off that he was once amongst us, and left with an empty spot now that he is gone.