PERRY — The 110 horsepower John Deere tractor pulling a 30-foot Great Plains drill came to a stop in some Noble County bottomland Wednesday. The tractor’s driver, wheat farmer Bart Brorsen, was asked to describe his longtime neighbor, the late Henry Bellmon. Although their farms — Brorsen’s near Perry and Bellmon’s near Billings — were about 15 miles apart, they definitely were neighbors. They also met up on Sundays at the First Presbyterian Church in Perry. Bellmon was considerate of other people, said Brorsen, 77. "Henry Bellmon tasted his words before he spit them out,” Brorsen said. "His mind was working fast, but he wanted to know where something was going to land before he threw it.” When the conditions are right for planting wheat, as they were Wednesday, a farmer doesn’t want to stop. But once Brorsen did stop and started telling Henry Bellmon stories, it was obvious that the yield on memories was tremendous. Bellmon died Tuesday. He was a former U.S. senator and two-time Oklahoma governor. He was 88.
‘The land helped keep him centered’Neighbors in Noble County, as well as those across the state, knew him as one of their own. "I don’t think he was ever comfortable in the cities or the limelight,” daughter Ann McFerron said Wednesday. "He could be more of who he was here in the rural communities.” Who was he, Bart? "He was physically, a very strong person with tremendous endurance,” Brorsen said. "He’d get up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning whether he was here on the farm or in Washington, D.C. "I know that for a fact because I went to see him at his Senate office in Washington. I got there at 6 a.m., and he’d already been there for a while.” He expected a solid work ethic from others, as well, Brorsen said. Bellmon owned a bulldozer he used on his farm and used to do some custom conservation work for others, such as building terraces. "He had a guy working for him operating the bulldozer,” Brorsen said. "One day in the 1940s, Henry stopped by to grease the bulldozer while the man was eating his lunch. He finished greasing it and noticed the man wasn’t finished eating his lunch. He said ‘How long does it take for you to eat lunch?’ The man said, ‘I take an hour.’ "Henry said ‘If you can’t eat your lunch in 20 minutes, I don’t have time for you. You just need to go on down the road.’ I imagine he did.” Bellmon stayed busy around the farm, and that’s likely where he was most at peace. "When you spend all of your time in Washington,” McFerron said, "coming back to the farm and to the land helped keep him centered and very grounded. It gave him a perspective of what he was doing. "He brought businesses to Billings. Politicians talk about Main Street in small towns, but he really knew Main Street. This was home.”
‘The options I had weren’t too many’In February, Bellmon and I were passengers in a Cherokee Strip Transit minivan from Enid to his home near Billings. He frequently used the service. I had asked if I could ride along and visit. We talked primarily about agriculture. It was the perfect opportunity to quiz him about why the farm has always been home. Bellmon told me, "I grew up knowing about crops, animals, machinery and rural people. I would have been a complete misfit in a law office in Oklahoma City or a real estate office in Tulsa. And I’d probably have been equally as much a misfit as a roughneck in the oil field or an 18-wheeler driver. The options I had weren’t too many. It was to do something that I liked to do and knew how to do.” Bellmon knew how to be a leader in office. He knew how to be a farmer. But, equally important, he knew how to be a neighbor. "He was a good neighbor because he was a thoughtful and good person,” Brorsen said. "I could tell Henry Bellmon stories all day long.”