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This man is my new hero! ! ! -

"State officials say Sherburne is not only a physical marvel of self-reliance - he lived off the land with an orchard and a huge garden to provide the couple's vegan diet - but also a model of the environmental ethic that helped build Iowa's state park system decades ago."

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December 9, 2007

**He built home to remain intimate with nature**


Thirty-three years ago, Floyd Sherburne had an idea for a retirement project that his children believed was crazy.

"I want to build a house from the ground up," he told them.

He wanted to do it at age 65, lacking significant money and formal construction and plumbing skills.

He wanted to do it on 10 acres of secluded, hilly and wooded ground in Guthrie County.

"We told him that it was no place to retire," said oldest daughter Nyla Cooper.

He didn't listen. He cleared trees at the top of a steep hill, tore down an old barn and turned the salvage into a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house.

"I thought he could get 10 years out of it, but he got 31," said Cooper of suburban Atlanta. "He cried. He didn't want to give it up."

Last month, Sherburne, 98, entered a nursing home in Guthrie Center with his wife, Florence, who suffered from congestive heart failure. They lived in a small room with a couple of chairs and beds.

"It's pretty tough," he said, his eyes growing wet. "Moving from a 3,500-square-foot house to come in here. But I have to be with her."

A few days later, on Nov. 25, Florence died at age 97.

Sherburne has a living memory now - the trees and deer surrounding the sturdy home in the woods that he enjoyed with Florence - and that he wants to share with others.

Sherburne sold his home and 10 acres to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation at a bargain rate. One day, it will be part of Springbrook State Park.

State officials say Sherburne is not only a physical marvel of self-reliance - he lived off the land with an orchard and a huge garden to provide the couple's vegan diet - but also a model of the environmental ethic that helped build Iowa's state park system decades ago.

He is one of 11 children of a farmhand. When he was age 9, and many of the men were away fighting World War I, he and his brothers were asked to work the fields instead of attending school.

"We cried all night that first night," he said.

Although he later graduated from eighth grade, the work in the fields garnered $7 a day. He figured to get rich before the other kids graduated from high school.

By the 1930s, rural Iowa was being wired for electricity and he was hired to help with the job. The rest of his working life, he toiled for the power company, finally retiring in 1974 after 56 years. He labored without the riches he hoped for as a youngster, but he maintained his optimism.

An old farm place was up for sale, 65 acres next to the state park. He bought it with what he had saved and later sold all but 10.3 acres.

No small retirement project began.

Sherburne had to build a long driveway and clear the land of trees. Then he had to tear down two barns, two hog houses and a shed.

"The hardest part was getting that barn down," he said. "I don't know how I did it myself."

The only way he figured to afford building a house was to use the old barn wood.

"I had the plans in my head," he said.

Sherburne said God was at work, providing opportunities, such as the closeout sale of a Des Moines company's windows and doors. He walked around the warehouse, mentally figuring each large window and where to put it to look out at wildlife.

He started hauling rock in five-gallon buckets up the hill to build a massive fireplace down the center of the home, extending through the walkout basement to the top, providing heat for both levels.

With no prior experience, he put in all the plumbing. He wired the house and built a large shed and septic tank near it.

He tore shingles off old buildings and saved them, even the nails.

"You could buy the shingles and nails for $15 or $20 a box," Cooper said. "But he told us that it would only take him an hour to remove that many. He couldn't afford to do it if he didn't do that."

He borrowed money only for carpeting.

Two years later, the home was done, right in the middle of the woods.

"Everything he did, he planned it for nature and the wildlife," Cooper said.

The five large picture windows he installed were visual gateways to outdoor wonders.

"I wanted to see out, look at all the deer, the wild turkeys and 14 species of birds," he said.

Sherburne made bird feeders and bird baths. He placed a salt block near the woods for the deer, which he watched daily out his window.

Together with Florence, he plowed a huge garden, half the size of a football field. He planted apricot, peach and apple trees.

"She favored the Red Delicious, I favored the Jonathans," he said.

They canned 50 quarts of apples. They stood shoulder to shoulder picking lima beans. He shelled and she canned.

They ground whole grains to make bread.

The land provided for their vegan diet, which they arrived at not as animal rights activists, environmentalists or health nuts.

"It's biblical," he said. "In Genesis, He told them what to eat - fruits and nuts and grains."

They heated the home with firewood, not because of any green lifestyle, but out of practicality.

Their health was astounding but, as for anyone who is aging, life on the land became a challenge. Nearing age 80, Sherburne broke a shoulder, which made hauling wood more difficult, so the couple began to supplement with electric heat. At 90, he finally quit ice skating on the state park pond.

Florence, by age 97, grew frail, needing a walker, and Floyd grew increasingly blind from macular degeneration. Still, he plowed the driveway with his tractor through last winter and the pair harvested vegetables and nuts in the summer.

"They would come down and pick the walnuts off my deck," said Carolyn Hack, Springbrook State Park manager. "I hated those walnuts, but they loved to pick them up and eat them."

This summer's garden was no slouch either, even as their health declined.

Cooper canned 65 quarts of their tomatoes before emptying the house.

"He was blind but could tell if a tomato was ripe by feel," she said. "Mom would have her walker out there. She would fall, and he would pick her up and put her back in the walker and she would keep working."

The house is nearly empty now but for the dated orange counter tops and shag carpet of the 1970s. The exposed old barn beams contain holes where horse bridles were mounted decades ago.

It is quiet and peaceful. Outside, the wind pushes the early winter leaves to the oak and hickory forest in the adjacent state park, where the Sherburnes would take three-mile walks twice a week.

When the end neared, as doctors told him Florence needed full-time nursing care, he scratched it out on paper. He figured it cost him $35,000 to build and $5,000 more to improve during the years. If he priced it at $140,000, he could make $100,000 to take care of their medical needs.

His children who live in Georgia, Tennessee, Colorado and Canada, knew it would be hard.

He placed a call to state park officials. He wanted to sell it to them but needed the money fast.

"We haven't been in the land acquisition mode at the state," state park bureau chief Kevin Szcodronski said. "We don't have the budget.

"Our priority is to take care of what we have now. Quite frankly, what we have isn't meeting standards."

Most of the 57,000 acres in 87 state parks has been donated, much of it in the 1920s and 1930s, when an environmental ethic among landowners spread across Iowa. Private landowners today are harder to bargain with, Szcodronski said.

He was astounded at the price.

"Mr. Sherburne had made up his mind," he said. "He wanted to give us the first shot."

Park officials coveted the land with state park property circling it in the far southwest edge of the park. In the sloping, wooded hills overlooking the Middle Raccoon River, it was a prime acquisition.

So Szcodronski contacted the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit group that buys land to preserve.

"We called on a Friday, and they bought it by Wednesday," he said.

As the state gathers the $149,000 sale price through its slow process of paperwork and approval, it will eventually buy the land from Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.

The house will become a lodge where families can vacation. It will be called Sherburne Lodge.

"This is a minor example of what began the whole system," Szcodronski said. Sherburne had built the large home for his family to enjoy and, although there were few times they all could gather there, soon everyone will have a shot.

Sherburne said, closing his eyes: "I just loved it out there. It was so quiet."

Last week, Sherburne moved to Marietta, Ga., to live with daughter, Nyla. Carolyn Hack has already reserved the future lodge for his 100th birthday in May 2009. Sherburne said he will certainly come back.

The deer may welcome his return.

Last winter, when a coat of ice covered the forest, he worried they wouldn't have anything to eat. So he hauled hay into the woods and laid it down, a blind man who knew it could be tough but rewarding to make something out of nothing in the woods.

Responses (7)

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    Posted by paragonx at 12/13/07 15:00:17

    Great story - thanks for posting it.

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    Posted by JohnnySensible at 12/13/07 22:00:30

    Florence Sherburne, 97, Guthrie Center, IA, died November 24, 2007 at The New Homestead in Guthrie Center. The daughter of William Arthur Morey and Bertha May Shelley Morey, she was born June 7, 1910. She had an older brother, Glen.

    Florence grew up on a farm near Stuart, attended country school and graduated from the 8th grade. In 1924 her parents sold their farm and moved to Nevada, IA where they worked at the Iowa Sanitarium and Hospital, operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Florence finished school in Nevada while working part time at the hospital. After school, she traveled the Midwest and Eastern United States working a variety of jobs before returning to Menlo where her parents had purchased a farm.

    January 1, 1940, she married Floyd Sherburne at her parent's farm. They honeymooned in Colorado where Floyd had work with the Rural Electric Association. For three years they lived in a 16 ft. trailer and followed Floyd's work through Colorado, Texas and Iowa. They moved to Guthrie Center in 1946 when Floyd became line superintendent for the Guthrie County REC. When he retired, they built a home on the border of Springbrook State Park where they were able to remain 32 years.

    Florence always was active in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Until age prevented, she operated a Relief Center in Guthrie Center, providing clothes and household goods to families in need. She also volunteered her time for many years as Treasurer for the State of Iowa Adventist Disaster and Relief Association.

    She is survived by her husband Floyd; children Nyla Sherburne Cooper of Marietta, GA, Wiley of Portland, TN, Dwight of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and Doyle of Centennial, CO; 10 grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

  • Gorgeous's avatar
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    Posted by Gorgeous at 12/14/07 01:45:12

    Thanks Ann!

    So they are Adventist's - good post Johnny!

    I would love to meet Floyd Sherburne.

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by Aardy at 01/02/08 03:35:45

    Thanks for the inspirational story. So life is not over at 65 if you have a vision! I'd love to meet Floyd Sherburne too.

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    Posted by Laureltawn at 01/07/08 21:06:56

    Bless you all for your respect and insight into my Grandfather. If you could only meet him, you would totally Love him. He is an inspiration to us all. I cannot tell you what it has meant to be acknowledged by people with his own values. If anyone would wish to send him their thoughts or concerns, feel free. I will relay any and all messages. Once again, thank you!

  • Gorgeous's avatar
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    Posted by Gorgeous at 01/08/08 03:23:47

    Hey laureltawn - you have great good fortune - please thank your adorable Grandfather on my behalf for being such an inspiration to me - thank you - G


    Floyd Sherburne hands out a small booklet to those he befriends. It is called "Steps To Jesus," by Ellen G. White. Here is the first paragraph, which says a lot of what has driven his life:

    "Nature and the Bible both tell us of God's love. Our father in heaven gives us life, wisdom, and joy. Look at the wonderful and beautiful things of nature. Think of the many ways they provide for the needs and happiness of all living creatures.

    The sunshine and rain tell of our Creator's love. The hills, seas and plains speak of Him."

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    Posted by BarclayShawn at 01/12/08 01:03:01

    I also thank you all for your interest in my Grandfather, as Laurel, my Sister has stated Floyd is an incredible man. There is absolutely no quit in the man. He and Florence lived as close to God and nature as is reasonable in this day and age. I remember helping him tear down barns to build his house, straightening nails, laying out the foundation, digging in the plumbing by hand and having mashed great northern bean sandwiches, fresh veggies, and juice for lunch under a tree. Today the man's mind is as sharp as ever dispite a mild stroke and nearly a century of contemplation. We miss Florence but realize that she had a long and happy life and brought us all love and happiness. These simple people are very inspirational, and as Jesus said, "The meek shall inherit the earth." In my wild days I didn't appreciate what G'ma & G'pa were all about but now, sober and in my mid forty's I look up to this man who is shorter than he used to be and realize that when I was all about myself they were praying for me, not for themselves. Now G'pa and I pray for each other and have long conversations on the phone. Thank you all for the forum.

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