By Kenneth D. MacHarg
Lawrence Randle’s roots run deep in the fertile soil of his beloved Boone County, Indiana.
But his outlook and life took him far from that home-place and embraced the world through interests, travel and relationships. Eventually those brought him to the small Georgia town of Temple where he lived since the year 2000 until he recently moved to a retirement facility in Carrollton.
The tall, lanky centenarian recently reflected on those factors that saw him focused not only on his highly successful farming career, but on the wider world of church, people and events on a global basis.
“I was always interested in geography,” he reflected. “I wanted to know more about the world; how, when and where things were done; what other places looked like.”
“There came a point when my life connected with Asian people and I was able to know and learn more about them and where they came from.”
After farming for 21 years, Randle and his late wife, Violet, decided in 1965 to sell their livestock in central Indiana and embark on a three month trip that took them around the world.
The couple was intent on visiting students from Thailand that they had befriended over the years. They especially wanted to visit Joy, who they cared for as an infant for several months while her mother finished her studies at Indiana University.
After returning to her home country, Joy, who now is an economics professor at a Bangkok university, kept in touch with the Randles and eventually indicated her interest in returning to the United States to live with them for a longer period of time. They welcomed her with open arms and she stayed through her high school and college years.
That original relationship expanded to others as more students became guests in the Randle’s farm home near Lebanon, Indiana. Other of her siblings came to stay and their Thai family continued to grow. “We hosted many Thai boys and girls over the years,” he remembered. “Our home was the ‘Thai embassy’ for a couple of decades.”
As Lawrence anticipates his upcoming 100th birthday on May 31 when three generations of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren will assemble at First Christian Church in Carrollton for a celebration, he is especially excited that Joy will travel over 9,000 miles to be present for the occasion.
Lawrence and Violet considered their trip unusual for a farmer of that era. They went from Asia to five continents, including South America, where their son was working with the Peace Corps in Brazil.
“It was a time when farm families were just starting to send their children off to college,” he remembered. “It was a new era.” Thus, he felt the unusual urge to take off and see the world.
A combination of his wife’s death and the diagnosis of terminal cancer for his son-in-law who was the director of Woodlawn Christian Camp in Temple persuaded Lawrence to relocate to west Georgia 15 years ago.
He was widely known for his knowledge of the best restaurants in many towns from north Georgia to Atlanta to Carrollton. He continued to travel, sometimes by himself, to various parts of the country.
“We have tried to have a Christian influence on young people’s lives,” Lawrence reflected. “Over the years my wife and I gave numerous scholarships to students from our church in Indiana so they could attend Christian colleges such as Johnson Bible College (now Johnson University) near Knoxville, as well as Milligan College and Emmanuel School of Religion (now Emmanuel Christian Seminary) in Tennessee. Thirty-nine students from the Indiana church who studied at Johnson were supported by the family.
When he first started giving scholarships he offered grants of $500. More recently he has found it necessary to increase those gifts ten-fold because of the higher costs.
Mr. Randle has also supported the work of Johnson University and similar Christian endeavors, including First Christian Church in Carrollton where he, his two daughters and several grandchildren attend. In Lebanon his family was very active in New Brunswick Church of Christ where he served as an elder and Sunday school teacher for over 20 years.
Recently he and daughter Mary Alice Hobson of Temple spent part of a rainy morning counting up his extended family.
The grand total, after some discussion, was three children, including Mrs. Hobson and sister, Margo Shepherd. Margo and her husband, Ron, live next door to Mary Alice on the edge of Woodland Camp in Temple, and son, David, still lives on the family homestead in Boone County, Indiana.
Then there are six grandchildren, two of whom live in Carroll County Georgia, one in Nashville, Tennessee and three in Indiana. Referring to their long-time relationship with Joy and some of her siblings he quickly adds that there are three more “grandchildren” in Thailand.
Finally, twelve great-grandchildren living in various places complete the Randle family.
“One reason his mind remains so sharp is that he had tremendous insights throughout his life,” reflected daughter Mary Alice. “He served on the Rural Electrification Board in Boone County for more than 20 years and that give him a much broader vision of farming and the world.”
“He had a vision for farming that put him on the cutting edge of how to go about it,” she commented. “In one of the two books he wrote, he said, ‘You can judge a farm by the paint on the barn and the straightness of the corn rows.’”
When Lawrence lamented that he has difficulty continuing a long-term ministry of sending out numerous greeting cards to shut-ins, hospital patients, neighbors and friends, daughter Mary Alice gently chided him, saying, “Dad, you are almost 100.”
He acknowledged her reminder and commented that in one story he heard, a centenarian said that his secret to a long life was that he “never saw any future in dying.”
Lawrence chuckled and reflected, “I guess I have lived this long because I never did die.”
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