Inducted: October 25, 2000
He started practicing minimum tillage in 1926, decades before that concept was accepted by the agricultural community.
A long-time friend, Glen Courtis, remembered the reception of Mr. Kerr’s “radical” ideas on tillage in early years. “People thought it was absolutely ridiculous! They believed that you had to plow in the fall, come hell or high water. Only lazy farmers would practice minimum tillage!”
The land Mr. Kerr farmed at the beginning of his career – the 100 acres first tilled by his grandfather beginning in 1876 – was heavy clay, and did not benefit from fall plowing. As Mr. Kerr said: “drawing steel through the type of soil on my farm has no advantage.”
Mr. Kerr was convinced that farmers should use their plows less, and their brains more. At one farm convention, he was quoted as saying “Before we plow a field, we should consider what it is going to cost and by how much it will delay planting.”
Time, and success, convinced the skeptics that Mr. Kerr was right, and that fall plowing out of habit did not make sense.
Mr. Kerr was born in 1908 on the farm on Concession 5, Camden Gore Township, tilled by his grandfather, and later his father. His parents were William John Kerr and the former Mabel McKay. It was his happy fate to have the same address, R.R. 2, Dresden, his entire life.
Mr. Kerr received his primary education at S.S. 13 and 14, Dawn and Camden Townships, then attended Dresden Continuation School, where he showed a marked talent for mathematics. At home, he was responsible for the maple syrup boil from an early age, and continued until the sugar shanty was destroyed by fire in the 1970s. This worthwhile project produced 100 to 150 gallons of maple syrup a season. The family tradition is that George left school at maple syrup time in 1923 and never returned. His brother, Lawrence, explained: “George just loved farming, and wanted to start.”
It was “a very busy childhood” for Lawrence, George and a younger sister and brother, Jessie and John. Their mother was President of the Esterville Red Cross during the demanding World War I years, and her two older sons tried to ease her load of work by milking cows, or doing the gardening.
Small in stature, Mr. Kerr was a giant in his capacity for work. His son, Tom, said, “He was always able to do more physical work than almost anyone else.” He still pitched silage in his late 70s, a couple of tons a day.
Eventually, he farmed approximately 800 acres of land in Kent County and in Dawn Township in Lambton County, the crops including corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, barley, tomatoes, lima beans, flax, broom corn, hemp and hay.
In August, 1938, he married Alma Pearl McGregor, who had taught school near Dresden, at Port Stanley and in Toronto. It was a happy marriage for two bright and innovative people.
Mr. Kerr was always interested in cultural changes that could benefit farmers. This led to his service as President of the Kent Soil and Crop Improvement Association. He was recognized as an expert on drainage and served as tile drain inspector for Camden Township for some 40 years until his retirement in 1993, two years before his death.
His brother, Lawrence, recalled: “No one understood tile like he did! You could always learn something from George.”
Mr. Kerr became a well-educated man, learning from practical experience and books. He attended one short course at Guelph on practical farm skills. One friend said, “He read a lot, and he remembered what he read. He never stopped educating himself!” And in the opinion of another, Mr. Kerr was “completely happy and completely successful!”
Mr. Kerr was keenly interested in education, and served on the Lambton-Kent Secondary School Board. He was a member of Dresden Rotary Club from its inception in 1985. At these meetings, and in other sessions he attended, he was “quietly persuasive”.
Mr. And Mrs. Kerr embarked on world travel in 1961, and continued trips, many to rare destinations, until 1982. His brother Lawrence, on many of the same trips, said George’s sense of humour, his ready wit, enhanced the experience for all who were with him. “George just radiated friendliness and good humour. Few men have so enriched the lives of all around them.”
A Russian guide said his sense of humour made up for the difficult tourists she had travelled with over the years.
He loved to walk, barefoot, and he succeeded in doing it in 96 countries, and all continents, including Antarctica.
The Kerrs have three children and six grandchildren. A son, Thomas (Tom) of Thornhill; and daughters, Carol Jean (Robert) Hudgins, of Waterloo; and Dr. Mavis Elizabeth Kerr, of Wellesly. There are six grandchildren: Michael Kerr, Oakville, Janice (James) Zilisch, Charlotte, North Carolina: David Hudgins, and, Elizabeth Jean (Betsy) Hudgins, Vancouver; and Fiona Hudgins, Waterloo; and George James McRuer and Ian McRuer, Wellesley. There is one great grandson, Bradley Zilisch, Charlotte, North Carolina.
His death in 1995 evoked many tributes. An eulogy praised his joy, his energy, his practical good sense, his irrepressible wit and his tender hearted toughness.
“His sense of humour and his lightning wit never obscured his sound judgment. His religion was helping others.” He was “a man of abundant love for his land.”