January 10, 1995
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
Mair considers himself lucky to have gone to school at Wellington because of the small classes and excellent teachers. Mair, one of eight children, was born in South Dakota. In 1919 when he was five, his folks bought a farm two miles north of Wellington. His father lost the farm in the 1930s, but stayed in the area on a rented farm, actually doing better renting than trying to buy a farm on credit. Farmers simply couldn't make enough to meet the interest payments. "It's hard to believe," Mairs says, "but land went down every year from 1920 to 1940." His father paid $14,000 for the 120 acre farm in 1919; it was foreclosed for $8000 owing, and in 1943 Mair bought it for $4,000. The war years changed all that. Mair eventually doubled his money on that farm and doesn't regret selling it although prices continued to climb. He made enough money to support his wife and children while he earned a college degree.
During the war years, however, Mair worked another farm, one he rented from 1937 until 1941 when he was able to buy it under a tenant purchase loan from the Farm Security Administration. He built his own home and barn in 1942. The house was built without a permit or interference from the government. The main problem was scarcity of lumber and materials. As a farmer and the father of two young daughters he was not subject to the draft. He grew mostly alfalfa, corn and sugar beets, but sweet corn and string beans were good crops during the war years as they were canned and shipped overseas.
Labor was their biggest problem. One year, laborers were brought in from Jamaica and boarded in the old Lincoln school east of the sugar factory, but they proved unsatisfactory. In 1945 they used prisoners of war from the camp east of Loveland. Farmers paid the government the regular price for topping beets and the prisoners "got a little", including an occasional bottle of Schlitz. Such bonuses were forbidden but Mair found it improved morale and productivity. "After all, they were human and basically they were glad to be here instead of over there fighting." He does recall a German father and son who argued constantly. The son, "one of those Hitler youth," told Mair, "after the next war, you'll be working for me."
As to life in Larimer county during the war years, people on the farm fared better than most as they were allowed extra gas and sugar rations. Parts for farm machinery were a problem and generally had to be improvised with ingenuity. When the clutch broke on Mair's 1939 Allis Chalmer tractor, his neighbor managed a weld that Mair proudly recounts "is still working today!" (His brother still owns the tractor.) Social life was "surprisingly good" in the community club at Boxelder school.
After he left farming, Mair enjoyed a successful career with the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of State. As administrative officer for the American embassy in Rome, he "carried Jackie Kennedy's bags" and made her travel arrangements. He also served in Afghanistan and Turkey; he was Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs in the Department of Agriculture and was the coordinator for Food for Peace. He received the American Farm Bureau Federations Distinguished Service Award in 1953. Although he kept the farm until he went to Washington in the 50s, he never regretted selling it. "I wouldn't have been as free to go and do all this if I'd kept the farm."