William (Bill) Lawton, a longtime rural Jefferson farmer, passed away July 12 at Archstone Care Center near his retirement home in Sun Lakes, Ariz.
He was 86.
A celebration of life will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 24 at the First United Methodist Church in Jefferson, with words of comfort by Pastor Larry Monthei, of Hope United Methodist Parish.
The eulogy, “Inspiration Through Action: Family, Farming, Food and Cyclones,” will be delivered by Rob Lawton.
Private interment will be in the Jefferson Cemetery.
Bill was preceded in death by his parents, Harry and Dorothy (Shaw) Lawton, and his sister, Janice Chrones.
He is survived by his wife, Jo Ella (Shearman); son Craig Lawton and his wife, Alexandra Lanza, of Daniel Island, S.C.; son Kurt Lawton and his partner, Shelli Baufield, of Eden Prairie, Minn.; son Tom Lawton and his wife, Cae, of Jefferson; and son Rob Lawton and his partner, Cesar Montoya, of Annapolis, Md.
Also surviving are eight grandchildren: Seth Lawton and wife Carol, of Carlisle, Pa.; Brad Lawton and wife Jacalyn, of Houston; Nick Lawton, of Columbus, Ohio; Monica Lawton, of Oakland, Calif.; Matt Lawton, of Truckee, Calif.; Tanner Lawton and wife Amber, of Jefferson; Tiffany (Lawton) Sohm and husband Wade, of Grand Junction; Trevor Lawton, of Jefferson; and six great-grandchildren (Lily, Ella, Tate, Harper, Hudson, Marcus).
Two brothers are also surviving: Don Lawton and wife Elise, of Houston; and Bob Lawton and wife Bea, of Waukee.
Bill was born Jan. 26, 1933, at his home near Cooper. The family moved to a farm near Jefferson in 1940. It was a time during the early days of rural electricity, of small acreages, chickens, a few milk cows, rural one-room schools and weekend card parties with neighbors.
Bill started school in Cooper, then shifted to Jefferson, graduating in 1950. His high school years were filled with basketball and farm work. His most significant source of pride was his FFA work (received Iowa Farmer Award) and 4-H honors (top state livestock judge and team, county officer, and numerous cattle and hog show awards).
Following his mom’s death shortly after graduation, he spent the first year keeping the farm going and helping his younger siblings. The following two years he spent in the Farm Operations program at Iowa State College before coming home to farm.
In October 1953, he married Jo Ella Shearman, of Jefferson, with whom he shared 65 years of marriage. They had four sons: Craig, Kurt, Tom and Rob.
His 45 years of farming were filled with challenges, from drought years to the ’80s farm crisis, but he survived and thrived as the years progressed. Bill retired from farming in 1997, when he handed the reins of the Century Farm to son Tom.
During his farming career, Bill shared and instilled leadership values in his sons that he learned in 4-H, FFA and team sports. He was recognized as Greene County Farmer of the Year in 1964.
His community service ranged from local Greenbrier 4-H leader, Greene County 4-H committee and fair board to county beef and pork producer boards and Elks Lodge member. And he enjoyed playing fast-pitch softball and bowling weekly.
He was an avid sports fan who loved to teach and watch his kids and grandkids play sports. And his love for Iowa State University — where he and all four sons attended — lasted a lifetime. Bill and Jo Ella attended many football and basketball games over the decades, and still rooted for the Cyclones every week from Arizona in retirement.
Bill and Jo Ella’s faith was essential, too, raising all four boys in the wonderful rural Greenbrier United Methodist Church. They were active members for 45 years, where Bill also served on the board. In retirement, they were members of the Sun Lakes United Methodist Church in Chandler, Ariz.
Bill’s health had diminished over the last decade, moving into assisted-living in 2015. The family was fortunate to all have a chance to say goodbye, as he was ready to end the chronic pain he suffered. He passed peacefully.
His legacy of life lessons — the importance of family, hard work, humble leadership, teamwork, helping others and appropriate behavioral consequences — will live on for generations.
Instead of flowers, Bill and family request memorial donations to Greenbrier United Methodist Church, 2203 J Ave., Bagley, IA 50026, and GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome Achievement Center, 6507 University Ave., Windsor Heights, IA 50324.
Slininger-Schroeder Funeral Home is assisting the family.