The passing of a quiet giant

Ferris Leach
Ferris Leach

OSCEOLA COUNTY - He almost reached the century mark.

Osceola County resident and community leader Ferris Leach was just a few months short of reaching his 100th birthday when he died Monday morning.

After he passed away in a Big Rapids nursing facility, many Osceola County residents were surprised to learn Ferris will not be out haying or discing this coming spring and summer - something he did well past his 90th birthday.

In fact, the familiar U.S. 10 farmer figure was seen trying to get his tractor unstuck from a wet spot when he was 95 or 96 years old.

Ferris was one of nine children born to Sam and Laura Leach in a log cabin on the bank of Cat Creek, just east of Hersey in Osceola County. He began his education studying at the same school in which his father taught - the one-room Cat Creek School. He later graduated from Hersey High School.

Throughout his life, Ferris worked and pursued a career that was in one way or the other connected to agriculture.

He farmed and milked cows for some 20 years; spent a couple years managing the federal corn storage program in the State of Michigan; acted as the director of publicity for the Michigan Elevator Exchange, and then worked in Hillsdale as the county executive director for the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Office.

“Ferris was a lifelong farmer,” said Michigan State University Extension educator Jerry Lindquist. “He was a prominent figure in the beef community around the state.

“He was widely respected in every field of agriculture in which he had any dealings.”

At home in Osceola County, Ferris helped organize the local Farm Bureau and served as its first president - from 1945-48.

He also served as the president of the Federal Land Bank Association and was the chairman of the Osceola-Lake Soil Conservation District. He served two years as the president of the Michigan Association of Soil Conservation Districts, 18 years on the board of directors of the West Michigan Area Agency on Aging, and six years as chairman of that board. He was a past president of the Reed City Rotary Club, a life member of the Evart Masonic Lodge No. 320, and an active member in many, many other clubs, professional groups and civic organizations. Ferris was a proud member of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department Posse, and was a past Reed City Citizen of the Year. He was a founding donor of the Osceola County Community Foundation, and was an active supporter of that community-orientated group until his death.

“Ferris and his wife Jean contributed an awful lot to this community,” said Lindquist who is also past president of the Foundation. He was an early champion and one of the ‘builders’ of the Community Foundation. He was simply a great community member who was always a part of our landscape. We will certainly miss him.”

Ferris was twice married. His first wife Dorothy Pontz died in 1953. In 1954, he married Jean Wilson, who died in 2007.

“It was always a joy to see Ferris out in the field long after most folks would have retired and given up that kind of work,” said neighbor and Osceola County clerk Karen Bluhm.

“Ferris was a good neighbor and always an enthusiastic supporter of his community. He just kept going. He was farming and gardening - if on a smaller scale - until just a few years back. People will always remember the white haired man out haying on U.S. 10.”

Having been named after Woodbridge Ferris, Ferris Leach was a lifelong supporter of the university in Big Rapids.

In 2007, he and wife Jean donated a gift of land - most of his farm on the south side of U.S. 10 - to the university.

“At the time, the Leaches also established the Ferris and Jean Leach Teacher Education Scholarship Endowment Fund. Once endowed, the fund will provide scholarships to deserving teacher education students who are interested in pursuing science and mathematics teaching careers in secondary schools.

The biology, math and physical sciences departments at the university also benefited from the Leaches’ generosity. They established an endowment that will provide unrestricted funding to the departments that will help provide equipment and supplies to students involved in research projects, stipends to attract qualified students to work under the direction of Ferris faculty and funding for student travel to conferences.

Funeral services will be 12 p.m. Friday January 18, at the Pruitt-Livingston Funeral Home in Reed City with Rev. Dawn Pooley officiating. Visitation will be held from 10:30 a.m. until service time on Friday at the funeral home. Burial will be at Hersey Village Cemetery.