At 80, Greenway not done servingFor 53 years, local man has devoted time and leadership to local boards.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Tom Greenway’s recap of his life is like the man — straight and to the point.
“We’ve tried to be good neighbors and parents, and that’s what counts,” he said, summarizing a personal philosophy that has guided his life. Now “only 80,” Greenway makes it clear that the only thing he laments is getting old.
He seems satisfied and fulfilled, yet he isn’t done serving yet. There are few who can rival his years of service to state, and county.
Consider this partial record of past and ongoing service:
* 13 years (1985-1998) served as a Davison County commissioner. He missed one meeting.
* At least 30 years, so far, on the Davison County Planning and Zoning Commission.
* 27 years, so far, as chairman of the Mitchell Rapid City Regional Railroad Authority (MRC).
* Nine years as chairman of the Davison Rural Water Board.
* Three years as chairman of the Mount Vernon Fire District.
“Since 1960, I’ve been on some kind of board,” he said. Add to those milestones the countless hours of committee meetings in farming, planning and 4-H and one gets a portrait of a busy person.
The level of Greenway’s dedication is a model of citizenship few can match, said current Planning and Zoning Commission chairman Bruce Haines. Greenway’s service streak is so long, Haines said, that most of the people who have served with him have either dropped from the eye of the community or died.
“Most people are willing to serve and then they think they’re done,” Haines said. “Tom goes beyond that call. He has given, and given, and he continues to give. Any time it’s time to serve the community, Tom has answered the call.”
‘A steady hand’
Most will tell you that Greenway runs a good meeting.
“People respect him and he brings a lot of institutional knowledge to the table,” said Bruce Lindholm, air and rail program manager for the state Department of Transportation, who has worked with Greenway during the latter’s tenure on the Mitchell Rapid City Regional Railroad Authority.
That board has played a key role in the redevelopment of a rail line that now serves the new Liberty Grain facility near Kimball.
Lindholm noted that he personally appreciates Greenway’s efficient meeting management style.
“He brings, for want of a better word, a steady hand to the commission,” Lindholm said. “Tom keeps meetings on point, yet he allows people to say what they need to say. He doesn’t allow meetings to get too far out of hand before he pulls the speakers back into line.”
Petitioners will always get a fair hearing at a Greenway-run meeting, Haines said.
“He always listens. He always has his opinion, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to override you because that’s not his opinion. Tom values fairness and has a sense of right that goes beyond what people see today.”
A Greenway comment — which inevitably begins by using the name of the person on the other end of the conversation — is given in slow, steady, measured tones in a dry, resonant baritone voice that often sounds larger than the man.
The authoritative voice is the combined product of genetics and the roughening effects of 60 years of tobacco use. Greenway no longer smokes, but he grumbles that the addition of a new artificial hip and the subtraction of cigarettes have conspired to slow him down and make him fat.
He and Janice, (pronounced JaNEECE) his wife of 57 years, regularly host visitors at the “Greenway coffee shop,” which is the oval Formica-topped table in a kitchen that’s the operational and social center of the family homestead six miles northeast of Mount Vernon.
It’s where Greenway was born and where he plans to live out the remainder of his days.
“I was born right over there,” he said, pointing to the living room just a few feet distant. “Or so they tell me. I don’t remember it.
“My brother and sister told me they looked down through a hole in the ceiling and watched everything.”
Greenway’s roots go so deeply into Davison County soil that most people would likely be surprised to learn he’s a first generation American.
His father and mother, both English, came to America in the 1920s and purchased the original 160-acre family homestead south of Firesteel Creek in 1931 for $9,600.
Greenway knows little about his English roots except that his father served with the British army in World War I. His dad died in 1957, shortly after Greenway returned from service during the Korean War from 1953 to 1954.
In typical military fashion, the Army had taken a flatland farmer and trained him to be an expert in high-altitude mountaineering and cold weather survival. Greenway and others spent their time in the mountains of northern Japan, preparing troops for missions that luckily never materialized.
“It was great fun,” he said.
Greenway was born in 1932 in the midst of the Dirty Thirties and the Great Depression. His dad managed to scrape enough money together to hang on to the farm.
“I don’t know how my folks did it,” Greenway recalled. “A lot of land around here went for taxes.”
Despite the hard times, the Greenways persevered.
There was always enough to eat, he said, even if meals included the occasional cottontail. The rare candy bar had to be split five ways.
Greenway still recalls the day in 1941 that his dad came home after paying off the farm. It was a big accomplishment for a man, he said, “who came from England with $5 in his pocket.”
He and Janice married in March 1956. Their honeymoon was a trip to Minnesota to buy four cows that formed the beginnings of an 80-cow dairy operation.
Tom bought the farm from his mother in 1962. The Greenway operation has since grown to five and a half quarter-sections in size.
Greenway said most of the crops produced on the farm typically went to feeding the farm’s animal operations.
In those early years, milking was done by hand. Milking machines were added as finances improved.
Like all dairymen, the Greenways became willing prisoners of their cows.
“The old joke,” Janice said, “is that dairymen are rich because they don’t have time to spend their money.”
‘Why God made a farmer’
Tom still gets up at 5:30 a.m. every morning. “After 48 years it’s hard to change,” he said.
Tom and Janice raised four children: sons Alan, Brad and Doug, and daughter Lori. Tom still works the family farm with son Brad; Doug is head of industry training at Mitchell Technical Institute; and Lori works as a CPA in Sioux Falls.
Following their dad’s example, they have also given time to many community boards.
He is the patriarch of a clan that has given him 10 grandchildren — five of whom are married — and five great-grandchildren.
The Greenways proudly display a crowded, 8-by-10-inch photo of a recent family reunion. He worries that such photos may get rarer as the family grows.
“The family’s getting pretty extended and it’s getting harder to get everyone together anymore.”
Alan, father to daughters Jenni and Kelly, and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, is at the center of family attention these days as he battles leukemia and complications brought on by the disease.
Chad Greenway believes his grandfather is the embodiment of the Chrysler commercial praising the American farmer that aired during this year’s Super Bowl.
“When Paul Harvey told us why God made a farmer, he was talking about my grandpa. He is the definition of a farmer, a work ethic to which I have never seen matched,” Chad Greenway said. “My grandpa is a very special man. He is to me what the definition of a man truly is. A provider, a great family man, and a man of his word — the kind of man where a handshake is as good as a contract in gold.”
Tom Greenway has been fearless in his defense of agriculture, but he worries about the challenges facing younger generations.
“I don’t know how young farmers are going to get started today unless they’re in a position to get help from family. Everybody knows this land isn’t worth what it’s bringing,” he said. Speculation and market manipulation he added, are “creating a real gray area between need and greed.”
Meanwhile, he plans to keep on volunteering.
“I wouldn’t do things a bit differently,” he said. “I’m satisfied the way things went. Anything from here on is new territory.”