A Tribute to Don Wilson: 1930-2020
“He loved the growing. He just loved being out in the fields.” “His rows were beautiful. The farm was gorgeous.” Don Wilson was a consummate farmer, a loving family man, and a committed community member. His death on Sunday, April 19 marks the passing of a generation of Wilson men.
Don lived his entire life within view of the farm he loved. He grew up working in the fields before there was a farm stand, back when the produce headed to the market at Faneuil Hall. He learned farming from his father Stanley who had learned from his father James Alexander, who began working the 33 acres in 1884.
Don’s father Stanley and his brother Walter grew up working together on the farm. Walter’s son, Alan was four years younger than Don. Alan was a sophomore in high school when his father died. The teenager saw it as his responsibility to quit school and go to work full time on the farm. Don insisted that Alan finish school. “Alan talked about that all the time. He appreciated that so much, how much Don cared,” says Lynne Wilson.
In the early 1950’s as the cousins came of age the Lexington landscape was changing.
Acres of farm land gave way to house lots for G.I’s returning from World War II. And Don’s son Jim, who now oversees growing at the farm says Don and his younger cousin Alan saw the future, “They took the farm from wholesale to retail. Transportation in the country was improving. Produce started to come from other parts of the country.”
The two young men, now in their 20’s built the first stand in 1954, little more than a cinderblock garage along Pleasant St. Don spread the word to the customers along the egg delivery route he had begun as a teenager to supplement income during the lean years.
Lynne remembers looking out at night and seeing Don plowing in the dark, the tractor’s headlight lighting up each row, “There just weren’t enough hours in the day and there wasn’t a lot of help,” she says.
Jim Wilson also has vivid memories of evening plowing, “My favorite show as a kid was ‘Daniel Boone’ and he(Don) would make me come down and work the tractor with him. I was so mad I had to miss my show.”
While Don plowed, planted and harvested, Alan focused on the growing retail side of the business. The cousins’ personalities and talents complemented each other. The business grew under their shared vision. Jim says, “There is no story without Alan. They complemented each other so well. And they were both remarkably hard working.”
As hard as the work was, there was a bright side to life on the farm for Don. A lovely young woman came to live with her aunt in Lexington, just across Pleasant St. from the farm. She got a job on the farm and caught the attention of the hardworking young farmer. In 1953 the two married. Last year, Don and Betty Wilson celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary.
In their years together they shared two sons, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Remember Belle the Llama? As grandbabies became toddlers Don wanted them to learn about animals and caring for them. According to Jim, llamas turned out to be an ideal choice. They were relatively low maintenance and big enough to make an impact. Thanks to Don, has touched generations of children and become a piece of Lexington lore.
Don’s gifts to the town he loved took shape in many ways. He served for years as a Town Meeting member, spent 28 years on the Lexington Housing Authority, and as an outstanding community member he was named a Rotary Club Paul Harris Fellow.
In 2002 Don received the White Tricorn Hat in recognition of all his contributions to Lexington.
His contributions extended beyond civic life in Lexington. He was a member of and an award recipient from several New England growing associations. Recognized over decades for his commitment to agriculture.
Don didn’t spend a lot of time in the stand. He was quiet, a gentleman who preferred being out in the fields, working the soil, coaxing the harvest from the land. But, behind the scenes you would find Don in the barn checking on the chickens, Belle or the goats, happily driving the dump truck between Litchfield and Lexington or walking the fields he loved.
Don Wilson grew up in the soil of Wilson Farm and shaped its future for more than 70 years. He will be missed greatly by the entire Wilson Farm family. God Speed.
Donations may be made in Don’s memory to The Joslin Diabetes Center.