Less that 1 percent of the U.S. population lives to be 90, according to the Census Bureau.
The percentage of the population that lives to be 92 and still works everyday is unknown, although one Warren County resident holds that distinction. It’s Leard Hitchcock, who can be found driving a tractor around his farm near Rock Island most days.
“I tell people I’ve gotten to the age where I’m too old to retire,” said Hitchcock, who was born in Bone Cave in February, 1921. “I like to say I work 14 hours a day in the summer. I usually start around 8 a.m. and usually stop around 6 p.m. Eight plus six makes 14, doesn’t it?”
Hitchcock is a jokester and a story teller, although he admits some of his stories have lost a little detail over time.
“When you’re 92, sometimes you start telling a story and you don’t remember the rest of it,” said Hitchcock. “When that happens, I just say I’m an old man and I can’t think right now.”
Hitchcock still drives, gardens, and has very few physical limitations. He attributes his good health to “clean living” and eating right.
His summer garden is bursting with vegetables and currently has corn, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, okra, and tomatoes that are ready to eat, among other items.
“In the summer, I can eat 100 percent from the garden,” said Hitchcock. “I try to grow enough for my family, my grandkids, my great-grandkids, and my neighbors.”
Even though he is extremely fit for his age, Hitchcock doesn’t put much energy into a regular exercise program.
“I figure I get enough exercise using a goose-neck hoe, or chopping, or planting,” said Hitchcock. “When I’m not doing my chores, I like to be comfortable. I’m more comfortable inside the house than I am out walking.”
Leard and his wife, Emma Jewel, have been married for 67 years. They are proud to say they have 18 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.
Before settling down to start a family, Leard fought in World War II as a member of the U.S. Army. He served in France, Belgium and Holland.
He was first a soldier before he was wounded in the left eye by shrapnel. Even after his injury, he remained overseas as a truck driver in charge of transporting rations, supplies, equipment and personnel on trips up to 100 miles long.
“Being in combat was as bad as you could imagine,” said Hitchcock. “Just as bad was the weather. It would get down to zero degrees and it was impossible to stay warm. It would feel like you were going to freeze to death, even with all your clothes on.
“The worst part is you could go for weeks and it would never get any better. Here on the farm, I can work all day in the heat, but in the evening I know I’ll get to go home and clean up and sit around and relax. You didn’t get that over there. It was bad all day and it was even worse at night.”
Hitchcock says he was 24 – old for that era – when he married in August, 1945. His first job after the service was working on a farm with his brother in Van Buren County.
“We raised hogs and beef cattle and did all our milking by hand,” said Hitchcock. “Back then, you did anything you could to make a dollar.”
After 14 years in Van Buren County, which included winning the American Legion Tennessee Farmer of the Year Award in 1950, Leard and Emma Jewel bought a farm and moved to Midway. It was there they operated a grade A dairy farm.
Hitchcock bought the property on Sparta Highway where Day Lily Nursery is located in 1972 and they have been there for the past 41 years. His son, Tim, started Day Lily Nursery in the late 1970s.
“I didn’t think it would work,” said Leard, who grew up during a time when people didn’t have disposable income to spend on flowers and shrubs. However, he now has a different opinion. “The flowers are great. You put them out and they multiply.”
With no plans to give up work, you can count on finding Hitchcock inside his tractor, just not too early.
“It’s best to wait until the dew gets off the ground,” he said. “Otherwise the plow picks up too much dirt.”