June Crenshaw, matriarch of a renowned family and the venerable Shamrock Farms ranch in Kansas’ northern Flint Hills, died early Thursday, August 1, at her home following a brief illness. She was 93.
For decades, June Crenshaw presided over a growing and extended family and a network of friends and relatives who considered her as much a mother as their own. Her husband, the late George Crenshaw, was known widely for promoting Angus cattle in Kansas, and she was a vigorous partner in the enterprise.
Their farm house, in western Wabaunsee County, was central to the ranch that was a home away from home for dozens of neighbors, scores of family and countless friends who found their way to a cup of coffee, a glass of tea, something to eat, and a good, long visit. George and June were both from large families and for many years reunions there were a favorite and drew hundreds of relatives from as far away as Wisconsin, Idaho, Oregon. They could stay for days, in area motels or camped on a nearby hill in RVs.
The region well knew of June’s special Halloween treat, homemade donuts, and for years the ranch was a legendary getaway for athletes at Kansas State University; those who were far from their own homes found a welcome, anytime, to call it theirs. They came there, sometimes unannounced, to fish the ponds or to hunt along the tallgrass hills, or simply to talk. Food was usually involved. Many never forgot the experience. The casual visitor, especially on weekends, often found a loud crowd at the kitchen table; among them, from time to time, would be former athletes, collegiate and professional, who had been in the area on business and couldn’t leave without another return to the ranch.
“Some football boys came out the other day,” June once said. How many? she was asked. “Just four,” she said. Where they hungry? “I fried six chickens, fixed gravy and potatoes, some green beans from the garden, biscuits and whatever. It’ll hold them over ’till supper, I suppose.” Such as this happened frequently, in earlier times.
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Mrs. Crenshaw was born Luella June (Hunt) to Thomas Hunt & Nellie (Ratliff) Hunt on the family farm seven miles southwest of Attica, on November 10, 1925. She attended Camp Creek, a one-room elementary school one-half mile east of her home and graduated from Attica High School in 1943. June then attended Northwestern State University in Alva, OK. She returned to Harper County to teach for several years.
June met George Crenshaw in Attica; their first date was, ominously, on a Sunday – December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After a romantic courtship, they were married on February 7, 1945 at the Hunt farm. In the early years of their marriage, June and George farmed in Harper County, worked at Kansas State University where George was Beef Herdsman, and later moved to Olathe in Johnson County, where George was herdsman at the Blackpost Ranch.
In 1956, the Crenshaws moved to their own land east of Manhattan and south of the village of Wabaunsee, and called it Shamrock Farms. They planted deep roots, raising children, starting a well-known registered Angus herd, on their way to becoming fixtures and leaders in the community and, ultimately, enjoying their grandchildren.
June Crenshaw was a multi-tasker when such a talent involved more than tweeting through petty distractions in cyber world. She was an accomplished pianist and organist, a nurse’s aide at the Wamego Hospital, charter member of Willing Workers, Sunday School teacher and pianist at the Beecher Bible & Rifle Church; she was president of the Kansas Angus Auxiliary, a Wabaunsee 4-H club leader, an organist at Zeandale Community Church, and a member of the Wabaunsee School Board. She was an active member of the Angus Association, the first woman to be recognized as Outstanding Stockman of the Year.
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June’s involvement, as full partner in the ranch, was not limited to the house, or its kitchen. She sometimes drove in the hay field, fed cattle, transported grain to the local Co-Op and helped with burning pasture. At the same time she tended a vast garden 50 yards square, its plat prepared, tilled with farm machinery and fertilized with manure from the bull pen; the cultivating and weeding were done with a hoe, and the rows produced enough corn for man and wildlife, and countless varieties of other vegetables, and vines thick with cucumber, water melon, cantaloupe, gourds, squash. And along each outward row of the garden perimeter June had planted bulbs that bloomed in a radiant fencing of tulip, iris, gladiola, a wash of color beyond the crop rows inside. She did much the same about the main house itself, and hanging baskets that flowed over with geranium and petunias.
All the tending, its color and magnificence, seemed a reflection of the way June attracted and kept friends, and how she made them and strangers alike, feel important.
June knew a way to the heart was through the stomach. It was not uncommon for neighbors to drop by as the aroma of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls drifted down the drive and up the road. On Halloween, young and old came to Shamrock Farms not for candy, but for June’s made-from-scratch donuts, served fresh and hot. There was rarely an Angus show where June’s peanut brittle was not served. Over the years she perfected a recipe for salsa – the tomatoes and vegetables from her garden – that is legendary.
Two decades years ago the barbecue facilities were expanded atop Shamrock Hill, the ranch’s pinnacle with a sweeping view of the area grasslands. Great limestone slabs formed a long trough for the wood fires under heavy iron grills; they were also brought in for seating. This expanded the scene for even larger crowds at popular July 4th celebrations, or cookouts for those K-State athletes (football, baseball, softball, among others) and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. There were political rallies, massive family reunions and Angus tours, all hosted by June and George. Every event was an occasion for people to enjoy Angus beef, homemade ice-cream, salsa and June’s famous “green” sweet pickles.
When June found something that made her happy, she embraced it. She began keeping a diary as a young girl and continued to write every day, and for decades. Occasionally, when family members could not agree on what happened “back when”, June would pull out her diaries and settle the dispute. It was accepted that her record was always correct. And on birthdays, she would read aloud the entries of what had been happening when family members were born.
She began corresponding with a pen pal in England when she was 14 years old and continued her entire life. In 1989, her first overseas trip was to visit that pen pal. That trip to England incubated a new passion. With George’s full support, she added Mexico, Spain, France, Australia, Wales, Scotland and Canada to her passport. June traveled alone, or with her coffee buddy Mary Ann McClure, or her dearest friend, her sister, Wilda Brock.
After each trip, she came home to find that her husband, a hopeless romantic, had tied yellow ribbons around each tree in the yard.
June could be found, in spare moments, finishing a cross-word puzzle (in pencil), watching Gun Smoke, gardening, practicing the accordion, pouring over a jigsaw puzzle, refinishing antique sewing machine tables or enjoying a cup of coffee. June welcomed good conversation – unless Kansas State football was on television, a circumstance that breathed to others a warning not to disturb. Every play was important. Rain or shine, winning season or losing, June never missed a K-State football game, especially the bowls; baseball and basketball, men’s and women’s, were also important. She watched all sports with the contagious Christmas enthusiasm of a child. Her optimism, her enthusiasm, her embrace of all that was colorful, drew family, friends, neighbors and acquaintances to her energy.
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June was preceded in death by her husband George and two daughters, Joan Elaine and Julia Marie; a son-in-law, Jim Kleve; three brothers, Duane Hunt, Lloyd Hunt and Max Hunt; and two sisters, Rena Imel and Vivian Hughbanks.
Survivors include a brother, Ralph Hunt, of Attica; a sister, Wilda Brock, of New Plymouth, Idaho; a son, Roy and his wife Sue; three daughters, Christy Crenshaw of Wabaunsee, Nancy Crenshaw-Miller and husband Paul Miller, of Alma, and Rebecca Rice and husband John Marshall, of Lindsborg; and three granddaughters: Valeri Crenshaw and husband Kyle Roehler, Kansas City; Julia Crenshaw-Smith, Austin, Tex.; and Coye Kleve-Culver and husband John, Topeka.
A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at Campanella Evans Mortuary in Wamego. A lasagna lunch (one of June’s favorites) will be served at Shamrock Farms following the service.
Cremation is planned. The ashes, presented in an urn handcrafted by June’s brother Ralph, are to be scattered among the ranchland Flint Hills. A remembrance marker is to be erected in the Shamrock Rock Farms Cemetery on Shamrock Hill. Some of her ashes will also be scattered in the Wabaunsee Cemetery at the graves of her daughters. The family suggests donations to the Wabaunsee Township Volunteer Fire Department.