Two lives lived close to the land – and to each other
Sandy Schofield didn’t hear him leave, but she awoke the instant her husband of 60 years was gone.
“I had laid down on the couch right there in the little front room, and I woke up about 2:30. Before I stood up, I knew he was gone. I went straight to him, and he was still warm,” she said Sunday, recalling the end of the vigil she’d kept by Kermit Schofield’s side for the last several weeks. “You don’t spend as long as we did together and not know when the other one has left you. We hardly ever did anything without the other,” she said.
Their time together had started decades earlier, when Sandy was 11 or 12 years old and her family was moving to Missouri from California. When they finally arrived in Dugginsville, where they were going to live temporarily with her dad’s twin sister, Sandy’s dad, Bert Stewart, stopped the car in front of the little Dugginsville church and asked a young man standing on the steps for directions.
“He had on dark-blue slacks and a pale-yellow shirt. He’d just come from his grandpa’s funeral,” Sandy said, recalling the first time she saw Kermit. As they drove away, following Kermit’s directions, Sandy told her mother, Barbara Eslick Stewart, “I’m gonna marry that boy.”
Laura Ann’s 1882 homestead
It happened three years later, on Sept. 26, 1959, at their preacher Mont Reich’s house in Lutie. “I turned 15 one Saturday, and we were married the next,” she said. Kermit was 18.
They were young, she acknowledges, “but my own mom had married at 13 or 14, and my folks always loved Kermit,” she said.
Kermit had attended the one-room Dugginsville School before transferring to the one-room school at Lutie. After eighth grade, he quit school to go to work. Sandy started at Dugginsville as a sixth grader. She dropped out of Gainesville High School when they got married.
Bull Shoals Lake had just gone in when Kermit finished his schooling. He helped build NN Highway, which extends off P Highway west of Theodosia. “We found his very first paycheck not too long ago,” Sandy said. “It was $70 for two weeks’ work.”
Kermit also helped build the North Fork Lodge, where he and Sandy worked for the Smith family right after they were married.
Before that, Kermit had worked with his father, Purl Schofield, on the land Purl’s grandmother, Laura Ann Luckenbaugh Schofield, had homesteaded with her husband, Ellis, in 1882. The rugged little house built of rough-saw lumber cut off the homestead still stands, a cherished landmark that was handed down to Laura Ann and Ellis’ son Jim Schofield, and then to his son Purl and then to Purl’s two sons, Kermit and Carl, who grew up in the house.
Kermit’s family taught him how to dig herbs, and how to hunt and trap on the Little North Fork of the White River – the stream that would later be impounded to form Bull Shoals Lake.
When they got married, Sandy and Kermit bought one acre of the homestead land and “the little old house that we still live in – with an addition that Kermit built on for us later,” Sandy said.
When the two newlywed teenagers settled there, the house had no electricity; they carried their water from a well. “But we went into town to the Western Auto and bought a new rug from Howard Wade, and we fixed our little old house right up,” she said.
Sandy remembers how, after their son, Dale, was born in 1965, “Kermit was working on the bulldozer, and before he left of a morning, he would draw water for me to wash the diapers in. I would carry that big 5-gallon bucket of water and heat it on the wood stove. I thought I had to have boiling water to wash with,” she said. “When I think back on it now, we didn’t have anything, but we didn’t know we were poor.”
A life of love and hard work
Kermit’s grandfather, Jim Schofield, had been a fur buyer who traveled throughout the area on horseback buying furs that he sold to fur companies. With Sandy at his side, Kermit carried on the family traditions he had learned as a boy. Their fur trading expanded into a commercial herbs and ginseng business when they took a load of furs to St. Louis to sell to the McGee Fur Company.
“The old gentleman who owned the company asked Kermit to buy roots for him. Pretty soon we set up a route, traveling around, buying herbs and ginseng,” she said.
Schofield Roots and Herbs was born – “specializing in ginseng,” she said.
By then, Kermit was also doing concrete-finishing work in Mountain Home, Arkansas (“an hour-and-10-minute drive” from home, Sandy said), and she had become a beautician.
When Dale was a year old, she served an apprenticeship under long-time Theodosia beauty shop owner Mae Long and then went to Jefferson City to take her test for the license. She also earned her GED.
She worked with Mae for 15 years in the Theodosia shop. “We only had one vehicle, so Kermit would drop me off and go on to work. While he was waiting for me to get off work in the afternoon, he’d do our laundry in the laundromat at Isabella,” she said.
A few years later, she said, “Kermit built me a beauty shop here at our house, a little block building.”
By then they had running water and electricity. “And I’m telling you the truth, I worked a lot of 60-hour weeks in that shop,” Sandy said. “I even had a lot of young girls who came from School of the Ozarks. Two or three of them would come together. While one was getting their hair done, the others would visit with Pops – that’s what they called Kermit.”
Toward the end of the day, Kermit would come home and start supper. “And whoever was in the shop at suppertime would eat supper with us,” she said. “Kermit was such a good cook. Oh, he could make the best blackberry cobbler.”
And while they were doing their other jobs, the Schofields also raised cattle and grew a garden and canned its bounty.
On the days they ran their herb-and-ginseng route, she would close the shop and accompany Kermit into Arkansas. One time, when they were in the tiny town of Caney, Arkansas, buying ginseng, they met a man who remembered, as a boy, seeing Kermit’s grandfather “coming on his mare with furs hanging on both sides of the saddle,” Sandy said. “Kermit talked about that for years.”
A well-intentioned but costly mistake
After 29 years as a beautician, Sandy retired and focused on helping Kermit with the herb and ginseng business. They became well known and respected throughout the area as honest and knowledgeable traders.
Then, in September 2015, they made a well-intentioned but costly mistake that turned their world upside down.
The incident occurred in Mountain View, Arkansas, where they went every Friday to buy roots, including wild ginseng, which they were licensed to buy and sell in both Missouri and Arkansas.
“Every Friday at 2:15 for years and years, we met our inspector at a health food store and had our roots certified,” Sandy told the Times in 2018. “But on that day, we got a message from him saying his wife was in the ambulance going to the hospital. He said, ‘I can’t be there. I’ll see you next week.’”
They took the uninspected roots they had bought in Arkansas home with them to Missouri, thinking they would bring them back the next week to meet the inspector.
Instead, five days later, federal agents appeared at their farm to arrest them for illegally trafficking the ginseng that had been taken from Arkansas to Missouri without the necessary inspection and paperwork. As the case proceeded, they were also accused of buying ginseng outside of the legal buying period.”
They had bought from some young people who said they needed money and asked the Schofields to buy their ginseng, Sandy said. “We’d bought from their dad and their grandpa through the years. We knew them. But we knew it was wrong, and we shouldn’t have done it.”
To help the “kids,” Sandy and Kermit did buy their ginseng, even though it was outside the legal buying season.
Federal prosecutors wanted Sandy, then 73, and Kermit, then 78, to serve five years in prison. Kermit “had never even had a parking ticket,” Sandy said.
The “trafficking” charge was eventually dropped, and the ginseng that had been confiscated was returned to them. But the charge of purchasing ginseng outside the legal buying period remained, and the prosecutors still wanted them to serve a prison sentence – to “send a message” to others who might violate the law, Sandy said.
“My greatest dread,” she told the Springfield News-Leader at the time, was “being away from [Kermit]. He couldn’t make it without me.”
On that Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, the Schofields made their way to Springfield to be sentenced. And, as it turned out, so did a caravan of their friends.
The News-Leader reported “there were no empty seats” as the Schofields’ case was called. Some people even had to stand outside in the hallway.
Acknowledging the prosecution’s recommended five-year sentence, the judge said he had received a stack of letters from the Schofields’ friends and relatives, vouching for their character and honesty and asking for leniency. The judge said he had read all the letters. Then, seeing the people gathered in the courtroom, he told Kermit and Sandy that in those who had gathered, “I can see the chapters of your life. And I think you need to go home to your community.”
Asked if they had anything to say, Sandy stood up and apologized. “So many of these young people here, I’ve had in my Sunday school. I taught them to do the right thing, and then I did the wrong thing, and I’m sorry,” she said.
They were fined $5,000 plus $65,560 in restitution and were put on probation for a year, prohibited from dealing in ginseng but allowed to continue dealing 50 other types of roots. Their son, Dale, who is also licensed, took over the ginseng part of the business during their probation.
‘He was a good boss’
During the three years between their arrest and the sentencing, a constant cloud of concern hung over them. Sandy thinks the experience led to the decline in Kermit’s health.
His heart valves had been damaged by rheumatic fever when he was a boy, and that problem seemed to worsen. In May 2019, he went in for a routine colonoscopy and ended up having emergency surgery. In January, the serious decline began, Sandy said. A few weeks ago, hospice was called in, and Sandy started sleeping in a recliner next to the hospital bed that had been brought in for Kermit.
They were supported by hospice and by that same angel band of friends and relatives who had stood by them at the sentencing hearing. Dale and his wife, Cecilia, came every day to do the farm chores and make sure Sandy was cared for while she cared for Kermit. Dale and Cecilia, who married a few months ago, are both former Ozark County Sheriff’s deputies. Now Dale is a pastor, and they tend the Schofield farms together.
“At the end, Kermit couldn’t stand to smell food cooking, so Cecilia fixed meals and brought them to me,” she said. “Kermit told her, ‘I thank God for you, sis.’ She’s been an angel to both of us.”
After Kermit died last week, Dale called Ozark County Coroner Shane Ledbetter, and then they all set about doing what needed to be done to follow the wishes Kermit had laid out: He wanted to be buried in a simple pine box, with no embalming, which meant he had to be buried the same day he died. “He’d had me write down everything he wanted,” Sandy said.
And, during those last days, he also asked Sandy repeatedly if she would be OK. “He asked, did I know how to turn off the water and turn off the power, and did I know what to do if the cows did this or that, and he reminded me to buy salt for them. He gave me all my instructions. He’s always been the boss. But he was a good boss,” she said.
Soon after Dale and the hospice team arrived that Tuesday morning, Kermit’s nephew Loren Schofield got there, along with a host of other friends, including Cecilia’s three sons.
“And the neighbor girls came, Teresa Myers and Bobbie Terry, and I tell you, it was like a swarm of bees,” Sandy said. “Hospice had the bed and equipment taken out. Them girls stripped this house down and cleaned it top to bottom. Larry Meadows mowed the yard and the cemetery. I sat in the carport and watched it all. I am so thankful for all of them,” she said.
Steve Hart dug the grave that morning as an announcement about Kermit’s death and the plans for his burial that afternoon was posted on the Ozark County Times Facebook page. Then, about 4 p.m. – a little more than 12 hours after Kermit died – 200 or so friends and relatives gathered at the remote little Hart Cemetery to sing “Amazing Grace” and “I’m a Winner Either Way,” the songs Kermit had chosen.
Tom Cantrell, the pastor at Dugginsville Community Church, which meets in the old one-room schoolhouse Kermit and Sandy attended as children, read the Scripture, including 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
And then Sandy went home to the “little old house” she and Kermit had bought 61 years ago, where she would mourn the sweetheart she had lost and appreciate the time they’d had together.
“We had such a good life. Such a good life,” she said.