By now you know that Green Seniors champions a wide variety of people through its series on Green Heroes. Floyd Sherburne, age 98, came to our attention through an article in a local American newspaper (Des Moines Register, December 9, 2007) describing the amazing life he had led for the past three decades.
Until retirement at age 65 in 1974, Floyd’s life seems to have been like many others. He married, raised a family, and worked hard to achieve a small savings. Then he dropped a bombshell on his adult children: he was going to buy an old farm acreage in a wooded area, build a house from the ground up with his own hands, and live off the land. And he did just that—and lived there with his wife Florence for 31 happy years. That may not seem like a very unusual story, until you know some of the details.
It took nearly all Floyd’s savings to buy the land. He tore down some old farm outbuildings on his property and used the wood from the two barns to build his home. He hauled native rock in buckets up to the homesite for the massive fireplace he would build to heat both levels of the 3,500 square foot home. He salvaged shingles and nails from old buildings, and he bought the windows and doors at a closeout sale—including five picture windows for viewing the wildlife that would come to the bird feeders, bird baths, and the salt lick he provided.
The wild turkeys and deer had nothing to fear, for Floyd did not hunt. Rather, he and Florence kept a huge garden that provided most of their sustenance, even grinding grain for flour. They planted an orchard and gathered berries and nuts. Their vegan diet was a personal choice they made, stemming from a love of nature and a deep religious faith.
As decades passed, they continued their regular walks in the woods and growing their garden, even as they had to start supplementing their wood fireplace with electric heat. After suffering a broken shoulder, Floyd was not able to haul enough wood. They continued on, however, even when Florence became frail and needed a walker, and Floyd became blind from macular degeneration.
Eventually the passing of years forced Floyd and Florence to leave their beloved home in the woods. In 2007, Florence, now aged 97, needed care in a nursing home. Floyd moved with her to remain at her side. She lived on for only about a month. A widower at 98, Floyd sold his land and home at a bargain price to the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and now lives with a daughter in another state. His land became part of the state park which adjoined it, and his home will become a vacation lodge for park visitors.
Many families will benefit from Floyd and Florence’s work for years to come. His daughter says she will bring Floyd back, as a lodge guest in his former home, in May 2009 when the family gathers to celebrate Floyd’s 100th birthday in the park.
Floyd, you don’t know you are a Green Hero, but on behalf of all Green Seniors, we send you our admiration for a life well lived, and for a happy 99th birthday this month.