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Gazette Premium Content El Paso County woman is homemaker of the year

By Carol McGraw Updated: July 4, 2013 at 7:56 am

Barbara Payne of Rush is a Colorado Homemaker of the year.

She's not exactly what the title conjures up to some folks - a dainty soul in a frilly apron serving homemade jam and biscuits.

It's true that she does make great biscuits and is even more famous for making the most beautiful party cakes ever seen in these parts, neighbors say.

But she's also a water witch or dowser, as they are also called. She helps property owners to find water sources for wells.

She has a genteel manner, but it's evident that she is also as rugged as the land she lives on.

In winters past, she has helped cows give birth in snowstorms and dug out of dramatic snowdrifts near the house. In summer, she has driven a non-air conditioned tractor in 100-degree heat. And through all the seasons, and has a kept the faith in a fickle, sometimes cruel, land that has broken some farmers and ranchers.

As she talks about her life, she sprinkles her conversation with "You better have another brownie and more lemonade," and "Look at those clouds, I sure hope it rains."

On a recent day, Payne, 75, was out on the John Deere mower cutting five acres of weeds and tall grass. Then she watered the garden, checked on the health of a young calf born late in the season, and headed to the field to confer with husband Robert, 77, who was planting sorghum. After that, her plans were to check the grain market futures online and then head to Simla to join other volunteers painting the Good Samaritan Nursing Home.

The "homemaker" title was bestowed on her last fall by the Colorado Master Farm Homemaker's Guild. The award was created in the 1950s by the county extension service guilds to recognize the important role of women in ranching and agriculture. The guild is divided into nine regions and homemakers can be nominated from each. In 2012, she shared the honor with Deanne Elliott of Monte Vista.

The El Paso County Farm Bureau nominated Payne. She'll soon give up her crown, as applications are being taken for new homemakers. She and Robert raise beef cattle and are well-known for the alfalfa/grass mix that they grow on 2,500 acres 45 miles east of Colorado Springs. They have a water lease mainly for their crops - a godsend during the drought. Still, they have had to lease pasture for the cattle elsewhere.

Rush-area rancher Sandra Tanner says Payne is the epitome of what the homemaker title encompasses.

"For over a half-century, she has given so much to family and community, and the farm industry," Tanner said. Some of Payne's endeavors have included Colorado Cowbells officer, Colorado Farm Bureau chairwoman, president of the Tri-County Fire Department Women's Auxiliary, and heading up school and church fundraising and charitable events.

Neighbor Penny Book - she's 10 miles away, but that is "neighbor" status out here - recalls being invited to the house years ago after a Christmas play. "They had four children, and we had hot chocolate and cookies. As we were going home, I realized, no running water. How do you do that with young kids?"

Barbara's answer today: "Sometimes I wonder how I did it, too." She says this with a laugh. Actually she carried water in from a well and heated it on the stove.

The Paynes' roots in this country are as deep as those of the elms that line a nearby creek.

They built their ranch house 44 years ago on a piece of prairie with a view that must go clear to Kansas.

The yard is a small oasis of flowering columbines, colorful wash fluttering on the clothes line, pines and bird houses, and an apple tree where last year Barbara got seven bushels for pie filling.

She calls the austere landscape beautiful, particularly the meadowland pond that shelters herons and blackbirds. Scores of goldfish dart through the water, the result of a release of the kids' "pets" years ago. For dinner, she picks wild asparagus that grows nearby. "It is tender and doesn't have that waxy feel like the store-bought," she explains.

She grew up three miles from here, and Robert, a mile-and-a-half down the road.

"We didn't get far from the shoreline," she says.

Rapp road was named after her pioneer family. Her grandfather Adolf Rapp, a Cornell graduate, homesteaded the area in 1908, and her parents were Bill and Effie Rapp, who farmed. Robert's parents, Albert and Opal Payne, were early farmers, too.

Some of the relatives are laid to rest in the tiny Kanza Cemetery just a bit up the road, where Robert serves as sexton.

Barbara grew up helping cook for farm crews, and picking and piling pinto beans with a pitchfork. She and her two sisters sang at weddings and parties, calling themselves the Rappettes. She's still the song leader at Rush United Methodist Church.

Both Robert and Barbara attended Miami-Yoder schools. When she graduated high school, Barbara got a legal secretary degree from Blair Business College. Robert worked for Dr. Pepper and farmed.

She was good friends with his sister, and a romance with Robert blossomed. Marriage talk had its practical side. "I told him I could do the hard work."

They wed in 1956 in her parents' front yard.

"We didn't need a $10,000 wedding like they have today," she says. That frugality continues. She could shop the malls, but says thrift stores have a lot of the same thing "that people have wasted." There are no nearby grocery stores, so when she drives about 100 miles round-trip to town, she lays in 50-pound sacks of flour and sugar, and eight-pound tins of coffee.

She's practical when it comes to animals, too - even Snowball, a cute late-season calf that is pure white with black stockings and ears. "We might put him in the grandkids' college fund," she says.

Robert is known as a savvy farmer and rancher, and was once named the state's outstanding farmer. He's been on the Miami-Yoder School Board, and for the past three decades, served on the board of the Southern Colorado Farm Credit Bureau.

They had three kids in seven years, at first crammed into a two-bedroom house with one closet. (A fourth was born several years later.) There's a photo on the living room wall of the couple taken on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2006.

She calls Robert "the love of my life." He calls her his hero and praises her business acumen, cooking, and tractor-driving skills. These days, she says, he won't let her do hard labor or drive the tractor because of some health issues.

In years past, they would go dancing at the grange hall and elsewhere until midnight and then come home and bale hay by moonlight while the humidity was right.

Being a farm wife means being a good manager, she says. But it also means "dropping the laundry on the living room floor to attend your children's sporting events."

It was Robert's father, Albert, who urged her to be a water dowser.

"We were having Christmas dinner and Robert wanted him to look for water on our place.

I was cleaning the kitchen, and they said for me to go with them," says Barbara. "I didn't believe in it, even though the pioneers knew there was something to it.

"There was three foot of snow on the ground. Well, I had a pair of pliers and used them. It hit me right away, the energy. Albert said, 'You've got it girl.' And sure enough I found water. I've been doing it ever since."

Many objects can be used as dowsing rods, often forked tree limbs, but she aways uses her pliers, holding onto each handle and pointing the nose upward at an angle. She walks along the property and when water is found, the pliers or divining rod as it is often called pulls downward sometimes wrenchingly hard.

"It takes a lot of grip to hold it," she says.

She works whenever someone asks. "I do it all the time," she says. But she doesn't like to mention fees, saying it's only a nominal amount.

She says she helped the town of Seibert in Kit Carson County find water that runs 44 gallons a minute.

Besides water witching, she has supplemented the farm income with cake catering. Daughter Susan. Snyder. said she and her three siblings grew up with a strong work ethic. Her mother "always made us work hard and appreciated what we could do. And made us feel loved and valued," Snyder said.

She recalls how she and her siblings would work in the fields and her mother would bury a water container in the dirt for them to keep it cool.

"One morning they were going to take us to the county fair and there in the living room they had cowboy boots with ruby rhinestones for all of us kids in appreciation for working in the field."

She adds that her parents always make simple pleasures a treat, like inviting the neighbors over or talking about how beautiful the sunsets and crops are.

Today, Snyder - a nationally acclaimed volleyball coach in Simla - lives with her own family on 200 acres near Simla. Her brother Steve farms nearby, and another brother, Carl, works for Budweiser in Pueblo. Sister Dixie is a social worker in Castle Rock. In addition to their four children, Barbara and Robert have six grandchildren and two great-grandkids.

Barbara says a lot of kids growing up these days (and adults, too,) don't really understand where food comes from and how hard farmers and ranchers work. "They've never been credited for what they do."

More and more family farms and ranches are disappearing. Federal statistics report that 60 percent of farmers in the United States are 55 years or older, and less than one percent of the population farms.

"Families are having to make decisions between salaries and never knowing what your income will be, and with taxes and water costs getting more and more expensive, it's hard," Barbara says. "It's sad because it is happening all over with big companies taking over. It's all about money, and that is hurting agriculture."

She adds, "When our party is over, I'd like to think that our great-great-great grandchildren will still be here on the land."

And so on this day, she is taking special care in creating one of her specialty birthday cakes for her 2-year-old great grandson Cooper Snyder, who loves the ranch so much that she is sure he is destined to help the family make it work.

The cake has on its top, a grassy pasture, plastic cows and corral.

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Contact Carol McGraw: 636-0371 Twitter @mcgrawatgazette Facebook Carol McGraw

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