Governor M. Jodi Rell declared Sunday, May 22, 2005 as “Foote Family Day” in honor of the dedication and contributions of Edward Alfred and Marion Walker (Odell) Foote to open space and farmland preservation in Connecticut. Over 90 people gathered in Hebron’s Old Town Hall on that day to celebrate the lives of this well-known and highly respected couple.
There is tremendous history behind Governor Rell’s proclamation, and it is a story worth passing along to future generations.
The union of the strong, but shy, Edward Foote of Hebron, Connecticut and Marion Odell, a spirited, highly intelligent young woman from Rye, New York was by design. In 1941, the Reverend George Milne had just taken the position of minister for the co-joined Gilead and Hebron Congregational churches, and moved to Hebron with his bride, Janet Odell Milne, to begin his service to the community. The Foote family had been members of the Gilead church for generations, and almost immediately Janet was drawn to Ed, son of Robert and Annie Hutchinson Foote. “This man would be a perfect soul mate for my sister Marion,” she told her husband.
The Milnes soon invited Marion to come to Hebron for a visit. Included in the agenda was… of course… an introduction to Ed Foote! Ed was immediately attracted to Marion, and intrigued by her world views. This was a woman who had been Salutatorian of her class at Rye High School, a Sunday School teacher to Barbara Pierce Bush, had traveled to Europe as part of the Christian Youth Conference in the tense years of 1938 and 1939 (and had crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary’s final crossing before being converted to a troop ship), and was a stellar athlete with a particular fondness for hiking and the outdoors. There was no question of Marion’s ability to adapt to small-town living; she was capable of redirecting her enormous energy wherever she was.
On March 27, 1943, Ed and Marion were married at the Rye Presbyterian Church. It was a happy event; Janet served as her sister’s matron of honor, and Robert Foote served as his brother’s best man. The couple drove off to their honeymoon in a 1941 Pontiac convertible, the last made before the war effort ended automobile manufacturing.
The couple moved into the Foote family home on Gilead Street, sharing it with Marion’s new in-laws. Within six years, five children were born in rapid succession: Mary Ann (1945); John (1946); Debby (1947); Betsy (1950); and Eddie (1951).
From the time of her marriage, Marion submerged herself into the rural life and the Hebron community. She daily toiled on the farm with Ed, and often served as the “top weight” on the hay trucks so that the hay wouldn’t blow away as the truck made its way from the fields to the barns. She also joined the Gilead Church and the Hebron Grange, and was such an active participant that soon longtime residents forgot that she was a “foreigner” to Hebron.
The family was tight-knit. They would need this strength on February 22, 1951, when their daughter Debby was killed in a tragic farm accident. Ed, who tried to save Debby, was particularly devastated by her loss. Yet Ed and Marion never lost their faith, and their commitment to farming and the land that had been the core foundation of the Foote family for centuries became more cemented.
As the children quickly learned, living on a farm was hard work. From the time of his youth, Ed had always enjoyed the calves, and would teach them to drink from a bucket since they were separated from their mothers at birth. To do this, Ed would place his hand in the bucket with the milk and let them suck on his fingers. As a father, he passed his knowledge on to his own children. Starting at about the age of 5, Mary Ann, John, Betsy and Eddie were given the task of feeding the calves, with Ed’s advice guiding them all the way.
Footehills Farm, like most Hebron farms, was a dairy farm. To have well-fed cows, families had to produce food for the livestock as well as for the family. Most farmers grew corn; but the stony soil at Footehills Farm made regular tillage a challenge. As a result, Ed decided to concentrate on grass silage and hay. The four children were responsible for stacking the bales on the trucks (with Marion in the driver’s seat!) and then moving the hay bales from one end of the haymow to the other for stacking. As the children grew taller and stronger, their responsibilities grew to throwing the hay on the truck, and stacking it higher and higher in the barn.
Picnics became a daily event for the Foote family, and were used as a reward for the children when their chores were done. Even though her family was her first priority, Marion became even more involved in the Hebron community, ultimately serving on the Hebron Board of Education and Treasurer of the Town of Hebron. In 1974, Marion was selected as the Connecticut Mother-of-the-Year.
All the while, Ed, a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a degree in mechanical engineering, was planning the use of Footehills Farms. He raised a herd of registered Holstein cows, and won awards for Green Pastures. Ed also published in various trade magazines with innovative techniques in many areas of farming. Always cognizant of the importance of balance between wildlife, water and watershed, Ed was constantly designing unique ponds that met those balance requirements. He also used the uncovered stone to accentuate the ponds, and even built stonewalls to create a sense of artistic balance.
In the 1960’s, Ed began corresponding with the State of Connecticut, expressing his concern about the loss of farmlands to housing development. However, preservation on the part of the state was too slow to happen, in Ed’s opinion. He and Marion decided to take action, buying adjoining farms as these operations decided to go out of the dairy business. Over the years Footehills Farms went from an original 150 acres to 850 acres. When Connecticut finally decided to get involved in preserving farmlands, Ed and Marion sold the development rights to over 300 acres of their prime land to the state. This includes the pastoral views seen as one travels on Hebron Avenue. Future generations will not see house after house, or strip malls, in this vista: they will see only Footehills Farms, and the well-laid plans of Edward and Marion Foote.
Marion died at the age of 88 on September 18, 2002, and Ed followed her shortly thereafter, passing away on February 14, 2003 at the age of 86. They led their lives well, and Hebron is the true benefactor.