Tommy Rountree stands by the old barn and listens to a familiar story told three different ways.
“I'm listening to the same thing I went through,” the City of Suffolk County, Va., peanut and cotton farmer says, after hearing how his three sons made their way back to different vocations of one calling. “There was a point in my life that there wasn't any doubt that I was coming back to farm.”
Rountree, 54, and his wife, Ellen, raised three boys and one girl. Today, all of the brood is involved in agriculture in one way or the other. One's involved in ag chemical sales, another in ag financing and still another who works as an Extension agent. The Rountree's daughter, Heather, is a dietician. “We raise it and she tells us how to put it together,” Tommy Rountree chuckles.
Most Sunday afternoons find the Rountree siblings enjoying their mother's cooking at the same house where they grew up.
Jeremy, 29, was the first of the boys to hitch his wagon to a way of life he grew up with. He played football his freshman year at Virginia Tech. After graduation, he went to work selling ag chemicals to farmers with Royster-Clark. Today, he works the same area where his father farms.
Chad, 27, also went to Virginia Tech, taking a degree in ag economics and moving away from agriculture. Now with Colonial Farm Credit, he makes farm and operating loans to some of the same faces he used to see when he was coming up.
Glenn, 30, the county Extension ag agent in Isle of Wight, took a four-year romp in the NFL after starring at Clemson University. The way he puts it, he has the county of Isle of Wight as his farm.
For all of the Rountree boys, agriculture was a way of life, and something they couldn't escape.
“Growing up on the farm you learn about how to get along and how to work hard,” Chad says.
Glenn says the hard work on the farm didn't actually hit him until he was away at Clemson. His father raised hogs and had row crops. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tommy tended the hogs; then he'd get on the tractor and do row crops until midnight or 1 a.m. in the morning, Glenn recalls. “He did that non-stop for about 15 years,” Glenn says. “With no hired help — only us boys.
“I remember asking him one day when I was home how he managed to do that and he simply said, ‘I was young,’” Glenn says.
The oldest of the Rountree sons, Glenn looks the part of a NFL player. Stature alone would get him in the door with a “Yes sir,” but his knowledge of agriculture and concern for farmers get him in the cab of the pickup.
“I have always had an ‘ultimate’ goal of farming with my dad and brothers,” Glenn says. Four years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers didn't cloud his thinking about returning to work in agriculture. Soon after retirement from playing football, he began using his agronomy degree as an Extension agent with the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension Service.
“To play in the NFL was great,” Glenn says, “but it wasn't my ultimate goal: farming was.”
Chad and Jeremy feel the same way.
“You always want to find out what else is out there, but it doesn't take that long until you miss it because it's in your heart,” Chad says. “I've been very, very fortunate to come back home and get back to a lot of the familiar faces I grew up around.”
“It's in your blood,” Jeremy says.
Standing near his sons, Tommy Rountree recalls some of the same sentiments when he was young. He earned a degree in animal science from Virginia Tech. “I was an Extension agent for two years right out of college,” he says. “When my father died, there wasn't any doubt that I was coming back to farm. I was in a hurry to get back.”He wasn't surprised when his sons expressed the desire to work either on the farm or in agriculture. “There's the old saying that ‘You can take the take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy,’ I know. But it goes much deeper than that.”
Every week, the family eats together after Sunday service.
“Growing up, family always came first,” Glenn says. “Riches weren't measured by monetary means, but how much others thought of you. Our mom and dad always instilled the Golden Rule in us kids. I have been able to meet some great people across the country, but I have yet to meet two people who love each other and love others more than my mom and dad.”
Reflecting on having his family within the distance of two counties, Tommy Rountree says, “It's great to have all of them back close together.”