Suellen Myers: From the bookstore to the farm tractor
Shepherdstown is a like pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. This little town has a well-deserved reputation for being a beautiful original, full of charm, history and families that go back generations. And while many other, once similar little gems, dotting the east coast have fallen prey to excessive sprawl, Shepherdstown has managed to manage such action and retained its allure. Shepherdstown is still the “must visit” of West Virginia.
In 2007, purely by accident, I found myself traveling along that “rainbow” for the first time. It was a sunny summer day in the middle of the week. With time to take time and alone on the road, I meandered through a world of family farms that I thought had almost ceased to exist. My car took me past acres corn, hay and soybeans; past pastures of cows, and Angus, and sprawling farmhouses at the end of miles of driveways. The “Oh My God!” moment came at a pasture of horses. Two were up and running – swift, strong, absolutely magnificent – they were galloping around in the sunshine chasing each other. I think they were playing tag.
It was a perfect drive, exhilarating and memorable and my mind was consumed with “Who are these lucky people who live in this world!”
Shepherdstown Neighbor, Suellen Myers was born in Bloomington, Illinois and grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the daughter of Richard and Bonita Dowse. Richard, was a furniture salesman. When Suellen was a teen her father bought two local establishments -one, furniture and the other, books. This was a family enterprise, the success of which depended on the participation of Bonita, Suellen and her brother, Richard Jr.
After graduating from West Kentucky State High with a strong interest in books, horses and sports, Suellen went to Centre College in Danville to major in history and literature. “I would have majored in archeology if they’d offered it,” said Suellen. “I really loved school, and couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, so I went to graduate school.” Suellen entered the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill and graduated with a masters in English History. “I was a boomer, it was 1970 and there were no jobs,” she recalled. “PhDs were taking MA jobs and no one wanted to pay for a Masters when a Bachelor’s would do. So I went home and worked in our book store.”
One day Shepherdstonian, Bradford Myers, walked into that book store. Brad was a salesman for Oxford University Press and when he met the lovely young sales person surrounded by books, they struck up a conversation. This continued through dinner, for the next few days, and Brad decided that if Western made it to the NCAA Final 4 he’d stay awhile longer.
Western won, he stayed, sparks flew. Suellen and Brad talked long distance and wrote and Suellen came to Shepherdstown in the fall of 1971. They were married in January of 1972 and, as January is prime book-selling season, the newlyweds, spent their honeymoon traveling through Brad’s territory.
They settled in Shepherdstown where, in addition to his job at Oxford, Brad taught political science and current events at Clark City High. “Brad loved teaching,” recalled Suellen. “And his students loved him. One of his graduating classes dedicated the yearbook to him and former students were always coming up to say thank you.” After nine years at CCHS, Brad retired from teaching. “He wanted to quit while he still loved it.”
By then, still with Oxford, Brad was also heavily involved in the family business – a farm in Shenandoah Junction – and they moved to the tenant house at Jane and Bill Snyder’s “Rosebrake” on Kearneysville Road. The Myers lived in that house for the next six years and the family grew. First a daughter, Sarah, and one year later their son, Bradford Jr., arrived.
“When the children started school, Shepherd College was looking for adjunct professors and I was seriously thinking of applying. When I discussed this idea with the family my kids asked ‘Does that mean you won’t be here when we get home from school?’ and put an end to my professorship idea.” That decision Suellen says “was a good one.” Sue turned instead to Shepherdstown Elementary School where she ran the volunteer program for five years. And as she loved to sing, and had since she was 7, she joined the choir at Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. “I was in the choir when Randy Tremba became the minister.” She continues to lift her voice in song at SPC and hangs out with her talented choir buddies Rie Wilson, Rosemary Coy and Barbara King. Barbara is the organist and the choir is the best. Suellen also sings with the Antietam Women’s Ensemble.
Brad left Oxford to become a full-time farmer and the Myers bought a second farm and made the decision to become horse breeders “Jefferson was and still is considered an agricultural county but Brad loved horses. He used to ride with the hounds” and Suellen laughed, “I don’t think they ever caught a fox.”
The Myers family went into the horse breeding business and, in 1983, because they couldn’t afford to buy breeders in the United States, they traveled to Germany and brought back two warm-blood dressage and jumping eight month-old fillies: Weltkurst and Edris. The late, great Weltkurst turned out to be a champ breeder. But Edris “Eddy” as she’s known to friends, is a “Pasture Pet.” She can’t breed, never could, and she has a hip problem so you can’t ride her. She’s a pampered princess and Suellen loves her madly. She has for 26 years.
In 1994 Brad Meyers quite suddenly had a fatal heart attack. It was a shock and it was horrible but Suellen had two young teenagers to comfort and care for while their life as she’d known it, changed on a dime.
“When Brad died I took over the farming and had to learn a lot very quickly. I knew about breeding houses but not farming so I asked questions of farmers who had forgotten more than I will ever know. They were great. Kirk, Brad’s brother, showed me how to run the equipment, set it up, and fix what I could when necessary. He took care of feeding the cattle in the winter after he got home from work and in the spring he helped with the field work after his full day at work.” Not long ago, Bradford Myers joined the operation full-time to share the massive workload with his mother. Sarah also lives in Shepherdstown and has a career in the textile import business.
Then “I decided to do something for myself.” And Suellen went back to school. She graduated from Hood College with a second Masters, this time in psychology. As I said, she loves school. She’s also a dynamo.
“I love working with the horses,” she admitted. “When Brad died we had only one crop of foals though there were six on the way. I’ve had to do all the breeding research and make the choices.” The Myers horses are Oldenburgs, and over the years have produced 30 foals, many dressage champions and show every year as far away as Kentucky.
Suellen Myers’ life is the farm, and Brad’s hometown. “I love Shepherdstown and the people,” she said. “I know there’s going to be change, but tourists come here for the history and it would be wrong if the change wasn’t smart change. It shouldn’t just be new houses.” She’s worried about the farmland and loves her farm. “Why? I love seeing a field of mown hay and to say, hey I did that! How many people get to stop in their office and watch wild turkey, or fawns, or fox? One day I spent probably half an hour watching hawks sailing around. It’s exciting, a farmer is a professional gambler. You put the seed in the ground and take your chances.”
In 1978 the young family moved into a large, imposing stucco house on Shepherd Grade. Today the Myers home is above all – despite the size and large sunny rooms, the impressive stair case, the grand piano – cozy. It’s chock full of books and pictures and art and dozens of awards and ribbons and more books. She’s a voracious reader.
A feline father/daughter team: Patch and Paquito along with Sweet Pea, the dog, casually co-habit Casa Myers. It’s a great set up, and Suellen laughs off any compliments about the comfortable grandeur with “I have to say that horses and haying are two of the things I won’t put off in order to read – unlike housework.” Suellen Myers lives in a world of nature’s gifts, surrounded with good friends, loving family, good books and music. She’s on the rainbow and in the pot of gold.