The Hunt family is close. Four households, comprised of four generations, live side-by-side at the end of Tygarts Bend in the Sunshine community of Greenup County. They mingle every day on the more than 100-acre farm the family has cultivated for more than 100 years.
The youngest members — three little cousins, 3-year-old Ellie and sisters Carlee, 3, and Aubree, 2 — look almost like triplets sporting matching pink and brown suede John Deere boots. They demonstrate their cow-calling skills and explain that mean cows shouldn’t be petted, skills they learned from their grandfather, Paul Hunt.
They, like their fathers, Matthew and Michael Hunt, will grow up riding along on the tractor, helping to bale hay and taking care of the family’s herd of cattle. Eventually, the children will be the fifth generation to own the land their great-grandfather bought in the early part of the last century.
Home on the farm
Ota Hunt, 87, has lived on the farm for 71 years. She first came there as a young bride, when she married the late Carl Hunt, at age 16. The couple wed less than a week after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and a year later, Carl went to war. He had been raised on the farm, which his father, Harry, first leased in 1911 and later bought in 1921 with his wife, Nellie. Harry and Nellie had seven children, including Carl, the youngest of their five sons.
“My husband always said he’d never leave the farm,” says Ota Hunt, noting that with the exception of the three years he served in the Army, Carl never left Tygarts Bend until his death at age 87 in 2008.
“That was a trying time,” recalls Ota Hunt, her voice growing weary with the memory of the war years. “We had to sell all the cattle. His dad was disabled and we had to sell everything and lease out the farm.” The couple’s oldest son, Harry Kenneth, was born while his father was overseas and was 22 months old before Carl returned. Ota had left the farm to seek work during those years.
“As soon as he got home, he wanted to go back to the farm,” she recalls with a laugh.
In those years the farm didn’t have electric or indoor plumbing, Ota recalled. The farm house her in-laws lived in had been wired for electric but Nellie was too frightened to have it turned on. After she died in 1946, Harry had it switched on.
Ota and Carl built their home near the old homeplace in 1953, building it themselves room by room as they had the money and time.
In addition to their sons, Harry Kenneth and Paul, the couple had two daughters, Lois Ann Coyle, and Laura Lee Kiser.
Carl went to work driving a school bus for 25 years, but the family worked the farm, too. “I got out and worked with him,” said Ota, recounting how they worked together loading hay up into the loft of the barn with the old pulley system. Their children worked too, helping to raise an array of livestock, cash crops and produce, including cattle, hogs, chickens, soybeans, tobacco, wheat, hay and all sorts of vegetables.
They smoked their own meat and canned, jellied and pickled food in large quantities. “The food here was unbelievable” attests Connie, Paul’s wife.
Paul and Connie, who have been married for 32 years, eventually built a home across the road from Carl and Ota’s, where their sons, Matthew and Michael, were raised.
“It has just always felt like home,” said Connie.
“It’s a bond,” explained Paul, unable to put the feelings he has for the farm into words.
The sons feel the same way.
The boys grew up eating their grandmother’s home cooking and helping their grandfather in the barn with chores. “I remember going to the barn every morning,” said Michael, “and playing on the hay.”
Matthew recalls often their grandfather would take the leftover breakfast to the barns to feed the cats he always kept there.
It was Carl who started the boys into raising cattle. “Papaw gave us a cow apiece, that turned into four or five,” recalls Matthew.
He and his brother eventually would use proceeds from those cows to start their own cow-calf operation when they were still teenagers.
A priceless possession
“He always said, ‘Take care of your land. They don’t make any more of it,’” said Matthew, recounting his grandfather’s mantra. “I don’t want it to ever be broken up, is my goal,” he adds.
He too plans to grow old here. Matthew, 29, and his wife, Tessa, are building a home just steps from Ota’s side door. Their daughter, Ellie, 3, and the son they are expecting in November will grow up here, too.
It’s a sentiment shared by Michael Hunt, 28. “It was pretty much in our marriage vows that we would never leave Tygarts Bend,” jokes his wife Brandi. The couple and their daughters, Carlee and Aubree, live just on the other side of a large pasture next to Connie and Paul.
“It is like its own little town,” explained Tessa, describing how it too has always felt like home. There is little traffic on the road besides family members, and each household looks out for the others. “It’s just a great place to raise a family,” says Brandi.
The sisters-in-law were best friends before they married brothers, and they are even closer now. The couples met just days apart, with one introducing the other. Their first homes were separated by mere feet. Their daughters are now best friends and their husbandsare business partners along with their father.
They both have other jobs. Matthew is completing his mortician apprenticeship at Roberson Funeral Home and Michael is a master electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electric Workers No. 575, but they are cattle farmers too.
Almost two-dozen head of cattle, grazed on the farm at the end of August, but at times the family’s heard has been over 100. They breed their cows and sell off the calves when they are large enough. It’s a classic cow-calf operation, explains Matthew.
The family also uses part of the original farm, owned by Carl’s sister-in-law, Carolyn Hunt, and daughter, Susan Rase.
The herd of Black Angus cattle on the farm are a living tribute to their grandfather’s memory. The family remembers a time when there weren’t cattle on the farm, when Carl had grown too ill to care for them and Ota couldn’t keep up with them either.
“He’d grieve because there weren’t any cows,” said Ota. Carl would sit by the window, looking out and shaking his head “Not a hoof on the farm,” he’d say.
It felt unnatural to his grandsons too.
When Matthew was 17, he took out a loan to buy cattle. With proceeds the brothers had saved from the cows their grandfather had given them, they bought hay seed and began their operation.
“I seen all that land and I knew dad could farm it, I knew we could farm it,” explains Matthew Hunt.
“He saw an opportunity to make money,” teased his sister-in-law Brandi.
Paul Hunt was behind his boys 100 percent. “I was ready to go,” he said.
The money the family earns goes right back into the farm.
“We’re reinvesting in it all the time,” said Matthew.
Carl, no doubt, would be proud.