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‘Those Co-op twins’

Brothers Larry and Gary Farris have spent their entire careers working for farmers
By Glen Liford, Editor 2/25/2019

 

Twin brothers Larry, left, and Gary Farris have worked for the Co-op in Cleveland since they were 17 years old.
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Larry and Gary Farris are Co-op through and through. The twin brothers — Gary is the eldest by eight minutes — have been working for the Co-op in Cleveland, now known as Southeastern Farmers Cooperative, since they were 17 years old. In fact, it’s the only off-the-farm job that either has ever held, except for Gary’s position as pastor of Victory Faith Church in Cleveland.

The Farris brothers were raised in Shady Valley, a quiet community just outside of Charleston. Their parents, Earl and Delsey, raised a family of six boys and one girl and worked on the farm of dairyman Paul Sanders, who was also a school teacher and principal. The twins were the youngest of the clan.

“We were the babies,” says Larry. “We would sleep behind the feed trough in the barn while Mom and Dad milked.”

The boys learned to work on the farm. And they’re quick to credit their upbringing as key to shaping their work ethic, faith, and dedication to the farmers for whom they have now worked for almost 45 years.

It was on the farm that Gary first learned of the job opening at Co-op. The driver who delivered feed to the dairy told the young boy about the opening. Gary hired on, working on the dock for a while, and then moved on to driving a Co-op delivery truck.

“[Co-op Manager] Bill Sparkman asked me if I could drive that [delivery] truck,” says Gary, who had only driven hay trucks on the family’s farm. “ I said, ‘Why sure!’ He had a pole that needed to be delivered down on Dalton Pike. I had never driven a split-axle. I took that thing down to Dalton Pike, and I ground every gear in it. When I came back, I was still grinding gears. I reckon I still am.”

Six months later, Manager Sparkman hired Larry, and the brothers have been working together ever since.

“I started out at $1.90 an hour,” says Larry. “I made $75 that week and $30 of that went for groceries. I thought I was flying.”

When they were younger, the brothers would also work on the farms of many of their customers after putting in a full day at the Co-op. They would chop silage or sometimes haul hay until the wee hours of the morning before getting a quick nap and showing up at work on time the next day.

The pair has seen the Co-op through some tough times — a fire that nearly destroyed the store, two tornadoes, and the notorious Blizzard of ’93. After the most recent tornado, Larry was working at the store to get things back in order when he got word that the wind had toppled a tree on his own home. The Co-op crew left the store, drove to Larry’s place, and used the store’s loader to lift the tree off his home. That’s just the way it has been during their tenure, they say. They’ve helped the Co-op; the Co-op has in turn taken care of them.

“I think a lot of the farmers,” says Larry. “They’ve treated us just like family. They’ve raised us.”

Gary completes his thought and adds: “We worked for the daddies. And now many of them are gone, and we’re working for the sons. We’ve never had trouble with any of the [customers.]”

“We’re not known as Gary and Larry,” explains Larry. “We’re known as those Co-op twins.”

 
 
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