Auto accidents don’t stop Gooden: ‘Work, rehab and go on’
Mary Bea Gooden comes from a well-known farming family in Woodside, Del. Olin Gooden, her father, farmed all his life and was active in farm organizations, as was her mother, Bea.
Mary Bea thinks of her father as “Mr. Farm Bureau,” recalling he served as president of the Kent County Farm Bureau for years while her mother was secretary/treasurer. Bea also served as state women’s chair of Farm Bureau and of the Grange. Olin helped start the Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association and the Caesar Rodney Ruritan.
She said she learned from her parents the value of hard work. She helped on the farm from an early age. She recalls going with her mother to take her dad lunch when he was harvesting. While her father ate, Gooden would crank fuel into the combine, despite barely being big enough to turn the crank.
Her father told her once, “Don’t you follow. You lead. Get up and go. Drive yourself to go.”
“Mom and Dad were ‘goers.’ Mom’s mom was a goer. It’s in our blood,” she said.
In high school, Gooden played five sports: field hockey, basketball, track, tennis and softball. “I had a blown-out knee, but I still played,” she said.
Mary Bea was president of the FFA in her sophomore and junior years and a state officer for two years. She won trips to the National FFA Convention and was an alternate delegate. She was student council president of the whole school her senior year. She had been in 4-H. She won so many sewing contests that she made herself move on to something else — deer hunting.
The “going” continued after high school.
“I just have a constant list to see what can I get into next. It makes life fun. I like helping other people,” she said.
She married — in a wedding dress she had made herself — and had three children. Gooden said of her husband, “He knew when we married I was a farm girl.”
They had their own dairy cows for a while, as her parents had. When her children Karen, David and Doug were old enough to handle a calf, she bought three little Hereford calves which they raised and showed at the fair. They also had dairy cows, sheep, hogs and horses at the fair.
“Back when the old barns were there, we slept in the barns,” Gooden said. “In the years when the kids were little, I did the clipping.”
When she got divorced, Gooden went back to her maiden name and drove herself to go on. She was fortunate to have both her mom and dad behind her then, she said. “I really thank them for helping all of us along.”
Her mom was gone, however, when she was involved in the first of two bad auto accidents that threatened to keep her from farming. But she drove herself to get well.
“You laugh out loud and you go on,” Gooden said. “I taught my kids by being a model: work, rehab, and go on. Every day is a new day. Always work. It’s fun.”
Gooden was back in the fields before she was fully healed, riding along as her son, David, drove the tractor when she couldn’t yet shift gears.
“Every day I wake up is a blessing. Every day is a gifted day, and I try to make the best of every day. I do what I like to do: agriculture. The best thing is to be out on the tractor farming the ground.”
When she started out farming on her own, Gooden custom farmed, baling and wrapping high moisture, round bales of hay. She bought a baler and a bale wrapper.
“I went everywhere with those. Wherever they needed help with hay, when the phone rang, I went. I did a lot of baling and wrapping for 10 to 12 years. I came off the road when I inherited the farm.”
For a while, she helped other farmers milk cows and did machinery work, working ground. She still does that, helping a friend or neighbor any time there is a need. She works ground, mows, hauls liquid manure… “whatever needs to be done, that’s how I go.”
She helped David set up his chicken houses and helps others, too. She helps move dairy heifers and even goes to a ranch in Virginia where she’s been helping process beef cattle for 15 or 20 years.
“If they’re short of workers, they call me. If I’m not busy, I go.”
The children are all grown now. David and his wife, Wendy, have a 2-year-old son, Braxton. All three of the children help when they can. They bring hay into barns by the tractor trailer load.
This year Gooden baled between 2,000 and 3,000 bales. She expects to bale 5,000 or more next year.
“People are calling right and left. I ride the tide,” she said.
Gooden also rides horses. She qualified for world championships twice, traveling up and down the East Coast to qualified.
She has several world and national champion miniature horses now, and plans a long trip soon with a friend who trains miniature horses to pick up horses for the coming year. Gooden is president of the Eastern Shore Western Horse Show Association.
Following in her mother’s footsteps, Gooden was recently re-elected state chairwomen of the Delaware Farm Bureau Women’s Committee. She is a state board member and belongs to the executive board. The Women’s Committee raises money for scholarships and other activities at the Farm Bureau Food Booth at the Delaware State Fair.
Members provide food for the Ronald McDonald Room at Bayhealth Kent General hospital, help pack Thanksgiving food boxes at Mountaire in Millsboro and collect toys for patients and their siblings at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington. Gooden plans to attend the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in January and another AFBF meeting, Fusion, in March.
Busy? Yes. Gooden said, “I’m far from being done. I’ll probably still be going, with my kids trying to keep me from the tractor, when I’m 80.
“I’m a full-time farmer and I love it.”
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