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Farming community honors 3 for work

| Sunday, Feb. 4, 2001

Washington County Conservation District chose its December meeting to present the annual conservation awards. Recognized were Bryan McConnell, Phil Sapovchak and Edwin Cowden.

Bryan McConnell accepted an award on behalf of his father, the late Irk McConnell who passed away on Oct. 17.

'In memory of his many years of dedicated service to the agricultural community of Washington County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we don't want to forget him and we want to present this plaque,' said Don Gardner, a district director. 'Irk was a board member of the cattleman's association and on more agricultural committees than almost anybody else in the state.'

In accepting the plaque, Bryan McConnell said jokingly, 'You all knew Dad, and I'm sure that one time or another, you were likely singled out in that group of people he managed to offend over the years. His favorite was 'those damned Dutchmen from Lancaster County.''

Those farmers, Irk McConnell felt, often got more attention because they lived on the other side of the mountain, in the eastern half of the state.

'He surely is missed at my house and I'm sure in other places too,' Bryan McConnell said.

The McConnell family traces its history in the Washington County farm community to the 1750s, living on the oldest continuous working farm in the county. William McConnell came from Scotland and settled in Virginia. His son Alexander settled on 219 acres in what is now Cecil Township. Some of the ancestors ran a sawmill, some raised rye grain and made whiskey. For that reason they became active as farm militia in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Irk McConnell's son Bryan, youngest of six children, still lives on the farm with his family in the handsome stone house that was built by Alexander McConnell in 1805. The house sits on McConnell Road, and McConnell recalls the McConnell schoolhouse, named so because the family donated land for it. The McConnells are still primarily livestock producers.

SECOND AWARD

The second conservation award, presented by District Manager Gary Stokum, was given to Phil Sapovchak who lives near Bavington. The Individual Conservation Award was presented to Sapovchak 'in recognition for outstanding contributions in watershed conservation working with the Raccoon Watershed and the county Watershed Alliance.'

Sapovchak led the creation of the Raccoon Creek Association, which is involved in all kinds of work. Besides being chairman of the watershed alliance, Sapovchak has been instrumental in getting Enelow Creek and Buffalo Creek groups started, Stokum said.

In accepting the award, Sapovchak said he felt humbled. In his three years' work with the watershed groups, Sapovchak said a lot of work has been started and 'if we continue in that direction, we should be able to clean up all the streams in Washington County.'

'What we're doing essentially is repairing yesterday's prosperity. I think we have to look forward to cleaning up and prevent this (contamination/refuse) from happening again.'

FARMER OF THE YEAR

The third conservation award recipient was Edwin Cowden, who received a large wooden plaque as Conservation Farmer of the Year. It was presented in recognition of superior contribution to soil and water conservation.

District Director Dick Lehman made the presentation and explained that each year the district recognizes one of the farmers in the county who has demonstrated over time a clear understanding and desire to put into effect all the soil and water conservation plans.

'I know all of us, when we look at our farms, think we're the best but believe me, for the many years I've driven by the farm of the person we're going to honor today, Edwin Cowden has really put it all together.'

Cowden thanked the Washington County Conservation District, 'who have worked so hard to preserve our soil and water for future generations.'

The Cowden farm rests in Mt. Pleasant Township at McDonald. Since his farm covers land directly above and to the east of the Cherry Valley water reservoir, proper conservation practices are critical. According to Stokum, the Cowden farm is always one of the best-kept and well-maintained farms in the valley. Cowden currently milks about 60 Holsteins.

He said this year has been the best hay year in all his years in farming. 'I got five cuttings of hay.' Cowden, 72, has never accomplished five cuttings. 'I've been on the tractor since about age 12 or 13.'

Cowden recalled his great-grandfather, who sold wool at $1 a pound during the Civil War. His grandfather, Thomas, had a farm in Cecil where Cowden's father Lee was born. 'My dad came to this farm in 1914 from Cecil,' said Cowden. Originally from Scotland, the family made its mark in the county and a small village in the area bears the Cowden name.

Cowden and his wife, Rose, have three grown sons. The youngest, Aaron, still works on the farm.

'I like the idea of conservation,' said the award winner. 'Soil is most important. If we lose that, what do we have to leave to the coming generations?'

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