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B.D. (Buck) Shuman passes
Buck Shuman
Buck Shuman

Buck Shuman, a Tattnall County pioneer in the Vidalia onion Industry, died on May 31, 2024. 

As a seed representative for D. Palmer Seed from 1996 to 2021, Buck’s expertise helped local onion farmers utilize varying onion varieties that could help get onions on the market earlier in the season while providing the customer with a sweet onion that would represent the Vidalia trademark well.

Looking back, Buck would probably say that being born on January 4, 1933, in the middle of the worst economic depression the world has ever known was the kind of experience he would not wish for anyone.

But there were life altering positive benefits. No doubt, he heard his parents and family members discuss the calm efforts of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to slow the effects of the depression that spared few, and, as he grew up, he learned the benefits of hard work and a positive attitude.

At eight years old, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, he saw the stunned people of our nation awaken from an isolationist slumber, roll up their sleeves, and pull together to defeat the totalitarian threat of the Adolf Hitler war machine in Europe and then finish the job in the Pacific by halting the expansionist regime of the Japanese in September 1945. Buck would have been nearly 13 when the Japanese surrendered.

He was an eye witness to what the people of the United States were capable of, if and when they decided to work together, and one could sense that in his get-the-job-done attitude.

Along the way, Buck impressed people like E.L. (Estin) Grinstead, who was the Agriculture teacher at Reidsville High School (RHS) during the World War II days that organized RHS student efforts to help local farmers harvest corn, cotton, and peanuts in the absence of farm laborers who were serving in military uniforms around the world to help save the world. Many high school boys and girls got their hands dirty picking corn or cotton, or shocking peanut vines for hay for horses and mules. Perhaps it was that kind of outdoor work that drew Buck toward a career in agriculture, or perhaps it was the even hand of Estin Grinstead who would become Buck’s father-in-law in 1959.

Estin worked with FFA members in the 1950s who were trying to make the 100 bushel per acre corn production club at RHS, and his association with local farmers led to invitations to shoot doves and hunt quail in the 50s and 60s. That may have had a positive impact on Buck, too. My father once said that he never saw anyone who could shoot a semiautomatic shotgun in a dove field faster than Buck, and he always had that half grin on his face even when he missed. His cousin, former Reidsville Police Chief Johnny Shuman, told me that he always made it a point to get on the other end of the field from Buck, because, in his words, “Cousin Buck didn’t much like to miss. He’d get on a streak and you might not get many shots if you were close by,” Johnny said.

Agriculture and outdoors. Those who knew Buck would say it was an irresistible attraction. When he purchased the Reidsville Feed and Seed store, Estin was close by to provide advice when needed. It was a lot of hard work in the store and on the farm, and as he moved toward the onion business, he used that as an opportunity to teach his sons the benefits and sore muscles that came from hard work and ecologically friendly farming.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, I worked in the summers with the U.S. Agriculture Department, measuring land in winter and verifying crop failures for farmers in dry years. Several times, I drove by soybean or peanut fields at the Harley farm just west of the Georgia State Prison where Buck had crops planted. I saw Ben, John, and Mark in those fields several times and had to stop and watch the first time to understand what they were doing, which was pulling weeds out of the crops. Buck would put them out and leave them with the instructions to have the fields clear of weeds when he returned. It was more economical and probably safer than chemicals, and, if it had been taught in agriculture colleges, it could have been called The Benefits of Manual Labor 101. I mentioned to Buck one day that the boys didn’t look too happy in those fields, and he chuckled and allowed that he needed to get a little bit of work out of them. When I recalled that with John some years later, he still saw very little humor in it.

Today, it would be considered cruel and unusual by counselors and sympathetic mothers, but Buck saw it as an opportunity for his boys to understand what work on the farm felt like. I think he told Coach Danny Scott that he thought it might encourage them to do a little better academically so they could find employment somewhere besides pulling weeds in a soybean or peanut field. Maybe he was right. I feel certain that Anna has few regrets over the fact that she missed out on that series of life lessons.

Buck got into the onion business in the early years when farmers made a killing one year and nearly went broke the next due to under and over production and unpredictable weather in the 1980s and 90s. No doubt, his experiences, positive and negative, helped pave the way for the onion business to become somewhat more stable in recent years. Many Tattnall onion farmers benefitted from that experience and the improvements in the seed program that he enjoyed so much.

He was a farmer at heart, and it was obvious he enjoyed getting in the fields and watching crops grow. But he was also a pillar in the community. He supported the Tattnall County schools and the agriculture programs in those schools, in part no doubt, from the positive experiences he enjoyed under the tutelage of his father-in-law, and he loved the competition in high school and college football games. No one enjoyed the Georgia-Florida game more than Buck, particularly when the Bulldogs won.

As with everyone, there were difficult times in his life, but it was difficult to feel that when talking to him. He had a positive attitude that was contagious when I talked to him in the hardest of times, and that hint of a smile was always present.

It was people like Buck who emerged from the Great Depression and World War II years with a determined can-do attitude that helped promote Tattnall County agriculture and the Vidalia onion industry that is famous around the world today. We need more like him.