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True Grinnellians: Shirley and Allan Moyer

Shirley and Allan Moyer have done a lot over the years, including owning and operating their own petting zoo. Photo by Rae Kuhlman.
Shirley and Allan Moyer have done a lot over the years, including owning and operating their own petting zoo.
Photo by Rae Kuhlman.

Emily Ricker

For many students, an authentic “Grinnell” experience consists of studying hard, going to concerts every weekend and trekking through the loggias. On this isolated campus, it’s easy to forget what life is like for the majority of the town’s population.

As former owners and managers of a family farm and lifetime residents of the area, Shirley and Allan Moyer are the quintessential small-town Grinnellians. At 82 and 85, respectively, they have recently passed the reins of Westfield Farm down to Shirley’s daughter, though they still very much embody the farming spirit.

“This was a family farm and she’s the next generation,” Shirley Moyer said, beaming with pride.

“It’s a century farm, 105 or 106 [years old],” Allan Moyer added.

Last summer was the first in which they had not farmed in decades. During their active years, they were dedicated agriculturists.

“We raised a lot of little pigs and we had milk cows and stock cows, which are beef cattle,” Shirley Moyer said. Now they care for a slightly smaller flock of chickens, goats and ponies.

At its peak, Westfield Farm was a popular destination for school trips and families with young children. The Moyers ran a petting zoo and let kids bottle-feed baby animals.

“That was my favorite accomplishment of my life. We did that for about 20 years,” Shirley Moyer said, with a big grin.

With so many years of experience in the business, the Moyers have watched the practice of farming transform significantly.

“When you used to drive around the country everybody had cattle and pigs and chickens and yards. Now you go for miles and you don’t see anything,” Shirley Moyer said. She and her husband explained the reasons for that change.

“Big confinements, all confinements,” Allan Moyer said. “Animals were not meant to live that way,” Shirley added.

“Every farm used to have fences and cattle and chickens. Now they have nothing but big fancy tractors and combines,” Allan Moyer added. “In this square mile here … you used to have about eight farmers farming. Now one farmer farms it all.”

Farming isn’t the only thing that’s changed. The Moyers stressed the vast changes the town of Grinnell has undergone, including a shift in social life and even the layout of the town itself. According to Allan Moyer, the area where the Moyers’ house is located used to be its own town, the town of Westfield. Before J.B. Grinnell built the railroad, Grinnell residents needed to come to Westfield to do their grocery shopping and get their mail.

“[J.B. Grinnell] got the railroad to go through Grinnell, and that just ruined this town,” Allan Moyer said. “It reversed!”

When asked what wisdom they can offer today’s college students, these cheerful octogenarians had some  suggestions.

“I just think it’s a shame that technology’s overtaking everyone,” Shirley Moyer said. “But technology’s not all bad. It’s how people use it,” Allan Moyer clarified.

The Moyers have seen Grinnell change in drastic ways. Photo by Rae Kuhlman.
The Moyers have seen Grinnell change in drastic ways.
Photo by Rae Kuhlman.

They also stressed the importance of staying young at heart.

“I’m going out with my boots on! I’m not going to a nursing home,” Shirley assured.

Even during the time Grinnell has been the main focal point of this area, the culture has changed significantly. According to the Moyers, people who lived in the country used to go into town just once a week on Saturdays to do necessary errands.

“It was a social event,” Shirley Moyer reminisced.

Both of the Moyers explained how much the town has changed since the Walmart was built. Although they agree life would now be hard without it, they feel the store pushed out all the smaller-scale grocers and markets.

“I know life was not as easy as it is now as far as comforts and everything … but it still was a good way to live,” Shirley Moyer said.

Over the years, the Moyers have tried to maintain old relationships with their neighbors.

“You used to have neighbors, but everybody out here works in town,” Allan Moyer said. “Now you’re lucky to even know your neighbors.” The couple is making a valiant effort to retain what they can of these social traditions. Just this Wednesday they had two separate groups of neighbors over for tea. Still, these changes haven’t been easy.

“I used to know just about everyone who lived in Grinnell, now I hardly know anybody,” Shirley said remorsefully.

Luckily, the Moyers haven’t had to navigate all these changes alone. They’ll be celebrating their 40th anniversary this Saturday.

“And we’re still friends!” Shirley Moyer said.

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