She grew up raised by parents who had little time for community work. He was raised at a farm outside of Fergus by parents of a similar mind – but his mom liked to talk to people.
“We weren’t raised being involved with the community,” she remembers.
On their first date, they went to see Queen Elizabeth when she came to Guelph in 1958, and John Broadfoot smilingly admits he returned Helen home somewhat late.
“I overshot the curfew by a few hours,” he chuckled.
First, they got involved with each other and after dating for four years, John and Helen Broadfoot got married in 1962. They will celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary this year.
They became involved in the farming community in so many ways John literally needs a paper and pencil to calculate the number of years on committees, and the dates for them.
They went into a farming partnership with his dad in 1963 and bought the farm in 1966, the year their twin daughters, Kim and Denise, were born.
John had started work at 18, driving a fuel truck for Howes and Reeves in Fergus for three years, and then Texaco for another five. Meanwhile, he and Helen farmed for 23 years. It was a dairy farm, and when they sold that, he drove a milk truck for C.A. Kurt, of Elora, until he sold the business in 1996. Then he drove for Wark Milk Transport, of Kincardine.
John remembers his first day on the job at the yard in Alma. “It was May 9 and it snowed like the devil,” he said.
In 1969, they had a third girl, Marney.
The Broadfoots were just like any hardworking and normal couple making their living and their way.
Except there were a lot of things in the background. John had started showing chickens at the Fergus Fall Fair around the same time he began dating Helen. He also got involved on the fair board. He also got involved in 4-H, doing clubs like poultry, grain, calf and tractor.
“I was never a leader when our girls were members,” he remembered.
For Helen, she started in 4-H when she was pregnant, and shortly after that, she became too old for the club. John can recall serving for over 20 years as a member and leader in 4-H before calling it a day.
He was also involved in the Fergus Junior Farmers and served as president for a year.
“After I graduated from that, I was on the Wellington County milk committee.” He remembers being the chairman of every committee in that group at one time or another, and board chairman in 1985.
John was also involved with the Canada Farm Labour Pool, which had its offices at Wellington Place. That group helped farmers who needed help on their farms.
“I was vice-chairman of it when it ceased to operate,” he said.
The Broadfoots enjoyed their time on those committees, but John said there was lots of politics involved and that became disappointing.
“They used to be fun – and maybe they still are.”
Helen is more vocal.
“Even in 4-H it’s politics now, too,” she said. “4-H should be available to every child in the county – free of charge.”
She said she has grandchildren in the Durham area where there are families that can have only one child at a time take part in 4-H because they cannot afford the fees.
She said at one time it was $5 per child, but now it can reach as high as $65.
“It’s supposed to be – it used to be – free for all kids … The last year I led a club it was $10. I just blew up.”
Helen Broadfoot is passionate about a number of farming issues, and it is doubtful there is a farmer anywhere in the county who ventured off his acreage who has not run into her at a farm safety booth sometime over nearly three decades.
She retired this year, after 27 years of service as a volunteer with Farm Safety.
She had worked as a nurse for several years, in a doctor’s office, then painted apartments in Guelph, then began cleaning houses. Meanwhile, she stayed involved in her community.
As might be expected, it was a tragedy that got her into promoting farm safety in Wellington County. A neighbour was seriously hurt.
“Marinus Boot [now deceased] was working with a corn picker. As I came down the road, I could see an ambulance and the corn picker in the yard. Marinus lost both his legs – and he was conscious the whole time he was in there,” she said. “I told John to get up there.”
The police blocked the entire road to Guelph to take him to the hospital, and Marinus, living up to the toughness of his last name, swore he would put his crop in that year. He did, too.
“I’ll never forget that day,” she said of Nov. 3, 1984.
For her, the events were a catalyst that led her to become the face of farm safety in Wellington County.
“When my nephew asked me to go to Farm Safety, I did.”
John noted that farm machinery was dangerous and defended Boot. “We all make mistakes,” he said.
But Helen knows safety rules. “We always say ‘shut the machinery off.’ His pants caught [in the moving parts].”
She remembers Boot fondly, and noted “He farmed to the very end. He said, ‘If I have a bad day, I go to rehab. He said after that, I consider myself very lucky.’ ”
When asked if it gets frustrating that people still get hurt in farm accidents despite all her work there, and if the job sometimes seemed to be thankless, she admitted, “Yes, it does. But there are times when I’ve been told about how many we’ve saved – because you don’t often hear about the near misses.”
She said part of her strategy was to “start with the kids. When they get older … ”
Besides their work with those organizations, John and Helen have been involved with the Fergus Agricultural Society so long that he has been its president – twice.
He said he worked his way from sanitation engineer to president. He held that post, and said after his last stint, he is working his way down the list towards retirement.
“I tell people I’m the chairman of the committee in charge of fresh air,” he laughed.
Helen, meanwhile, runs a booth at the annual fair dedicated to helping people understand the agricultural industry – the agriculture awareness tent.
When John and Helen sold their farm around 1989, they became involved with the Elora Optimist Club. John helped start a successful toy show for that club – a natural for him since he collects farm toys like other people collect stamps or record albums.
He said for a while the show hindered his collecting because he felt he should not buy from just a few dealers. But he found that meant he missed a lot of desirable acquisitions for his own collection with that policy.
The Elora Club has since wound down, though, so the Alma Optimists, with John as a big part of it, will be taking over the show and holding it in their new hall next year. That will be its 18th year.
“You were collecting before that,” Helen remembered.
John admitted it is “sort of an addiction. The real joy is hunting something. You can collect anything.”
The Broadfoots readily admit that a big part of their social life has been intertwined with their work for all the farm organizations that they have volunteered with over the year.
Helen, being practical, remembered, “You were able to take your kids with you instead of paying a babysitter.”
But it was more than just that.
“It’s something people feel they have to do – or they enjoy it,” he said.
Helen added, “You just do it.”
John added, “I just feel like I have to give back to the community – support local people, local businesses. If possible, I buy local.”
“I’ve rather enjoyed it,” said Helen. “We’ve met so many nice people. Your party showed that.”
John recently celebrated his 70th birthday and over 200 people attended – and the Broadfoots realized that many dozens were left from the guest list because there simply wasn’t room.
Instead of gifts, the guests were asked for donations for the new Alma Optimist Hall and they collected $1,150 for that club.
“We were delighted when we added it up,” John said. “It makes you feel good.”
Helen said her family members were astounded at the huge number of people that they seemed to know.
Helen and John Broadfoot put it down to everyday living – their way.