Agriculture provides a rich crop of metaphors for our language. Someone said to be doing well is "in high cotton"; a failure is something that "comes a cropper." In between is "fair to middling," a term used in cotton grading.
For Jabie Hardin, an agricultural metaphor led him to provide some of the financial irrigation to grow Columbia County's new library.
The son of former Columbia County School Superintendent Jabez Sanford Hardin, Jabez Sanford "Jabie" Hardin Jr. remembers riding on horseback behind his father -- "in the rumble seat," Jabie jokes -- as the elder Hardin inspected his fields in Leah.
In those days many gentlemen were also farmers, and growing Columbia County's fledgling school system was just part of the elder Hardin's livelihood. Growing cotton and other crops also paid the bills.
Jabie remembers during one of those daily crop inspections that his father pointed to two fields: on one grew robust cotton plans, and the other ran wild with vetch.
The crops were planted on rotation, with two years of cotton followed by one season of vetch.
"Cotton takes nitrogen out of the soil," the elder Hardin explained to his son. "Vetch puts it back in." His dad then built on the metaphor to teach his son the importance of giving back to your community.
Now 93 and making plans for a 100th birthday party -- you're invited, if you can make it to Memphis in seven years -- Jabie Hardin still holds a keen memory of that lesson. "I don't have a cotton field or a vetch field," he told a group of Columbia Countians last week. "But I have that lesson here," he said, pointing to his head.
"When you take something away from somebody, or from a community, or from the soil, put something back."
Hardin's visit last week was all about highlighting his efforts to do just that. Though he's been away for a while, he still remembers Columbia County -- and we are blessed beyond measure that he does. "I'm proud to be a citizen from Columbia County," Hardin says, in a quavering but authoritative voice. "I still hold it dear to my heart."
Dear enough that he "put back" half a million dollars in the community toward improvements of the new library. With Hardin's gift and funds matched by hard work from the county's Library Board and Friends of the Library, the one-of-a-kind facility opening next year will not only be a Grade A library, but also contain a small yet cream-of-the-crop performing arts center.
"It is a wonderful combination," says Library Board Chairman Jeff Hardin -- who isn't related to millionaire entrepreneur Jabie Hardin, but often jokes that he wishes he were.
(In fact, both men originally shared a first name, Jefferson; but Jabie says he appealed to his mother when he was about 12, asking to be named Jabez Jr. after his father. With dad's OK, and a little editing in the big family Bible, Jefferson became Jabez.)
Jabie's generosity to Columbia County didn't start with the library gift, however; years ago, he started a scholarship program in his father's memory. In any given year, nearly two dozen Columbia County students, educated in the school system that was nurtured by Jabie's father, are rewarded generous funding for college education.
"Jabie has been away from Leah for a long time," Jeff Hardin says, "But he never forgot his roots."
Our new library, springing up in Evans on ground that not long ago was farm land, is evidence that the depth of those roots is matched only by Jabie Hardin's generosity.
When you take something from the land, give something back. Our community owes a debt of gratitude to Jabie Hardin for giving back far more than most.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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