“Who bought that painting?” That question echoed throughout the crowd watching the intense bidding on a painting by popular Ohio artist Dave Barnhouse. The richly detailed oil painting depicting a rural scene was one of four items being auctioned off during the fundraiser for Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. The auction took place during Ohio Farm Bureau’s centennial celebration last December, attended by some of the organization’s biggest supporters.
It turns out that David Mizer is one of Farm Bureau’s biggest fans, which many in the crowd didn’t realize. But then again, it’s hardly any wonder since the Harrison County Farm Bureau member had kept his inspirational story under wraps. It’s a story of how a scholarship had such a profound impact on the Mizer family that David was determined to successfully bid $20,500 on the painting with some of the proceeds going toward college scholarships.
Doing so would complete a circle of giving dating back to 1920.
“Farm Bureau was there for my father so many years ago when they helped him get his start and it was time to give back,” David said, leaning his head back against the old Cadiz farmhouse he grew up in. “What we have here today is because of (my father) and Farm Bureau’s help.”
A scholarship started everything
That help came in the form of a scholarship from Coshocton County Farm Bureau for David’s father, Emerson, to attend Ohio State University. The year was 1920 and 20-year-old Emerson was working on a neighbor’s farm, earning $45 a month. He’d attended but not graduated from West Lafayette High School in Coshocton County. According to a written family history, the scholarship was so he could “attend the three-year curricula in agriculture and horticulture adapted to the needs for farm boys who find it impossible to avail themselves of the four-year curricula, especially those who have not had the advantage of a high school education.”
Emerson worked hard in the classroom, earning his degree in three years and financially supporting himself by delivering telegrams on a bike, working in the dairy barns, washing team uniforms and working in a restaurant an hour a day for his meals. A professor gave him a heads up about a job in Harrison County that paid double what he’d made before going to college. That job was testing butterfat content and resulted in him being one of the first automobile owners in the area with a crank start Model T. He also met his future wife, Sylvia, while testing milk on her father’s farm. The two started dating and when she graduated from Muskingum College with a degree in education, the couple was an anomaly in the community.
“Having two college graduates who were husband and wife was a big deal back then,” Dan Willis said of his grandparents. Dan, who grew up in Columbus, reminisced about visiting the 208-acre farm his grandparents bought in 1931 for $8,000. The family was a major employer in the area, running Hillcrest Dairy, and had an ice cream parlor at the bottom of their property. Emerson was actively involved in the farming community and was appointed by former Gov. Frank Lausche to the Ohio State Agricultural Board (which operated the Ohio State Fair) from 1946-1962. He also served on the local rural electric cooperative board that helped bring electricity to the area and the Harrison County Soil Conservation District board of supervisors. Emerson traveled the world, visiting farms in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and Thailand.
“He was always forward looking and had the first milking parlor in the area in the 1960s,” David said of his father. “He wanted to be part of everything and traveled the world for new ideas.”
Today, the dairy is long gone and the land is now rented out for pasture and row crops. The family still gathers at the original 1868 farmhouse as well as at the nearby house of David and his wife, Anna. It’s there that a copy of the Barnhouse painting hangs in the kitchen. The Mizers hope to donate the original painting to the library in Cadiz where residents can enjoy seeing how life was “back in simpler times,” as Harrison County Farm Bureau President John Seleski has said in describing the painting.
The Mizers are thrilled that the painting will be displayed in eastern Ohio and that the funds generated from the sale will be split evenly among Farm Bureaus in Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas counties. Some of those funds will support college scholarships just like Emerson received almost 100 years ago.
“The painting is all about history and there are local people from Tuscarawas County in it so it’s appropriate that someone local bought it,” said David, decked out in a Together with Farmers hat and Harrison County Farm Bureau shirt. “It’s so perfect that the funds will support college students today.”
Copies of Dave Barnhouse’s Ohio Farm Bureau centennial commemorative print are available for purchase at $125 each. The limited edition prints are 30” x 18” and can be purchased online.
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Photo caption: David and Anna Mizer and their nephew Dan Willis hold the painting the family purchased for $20,500 with proceeds benefiting Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation. Depicted are county Farm Bureau presidents at the time of the painting: John Seleski of Harrison County, Jim Rowe of Tuscarawas County, Bernie Heffelbower of Carroll County and John Grafton of Jefferson County.