James Theodore Becker, a well-known Wayne County farmer and community leader, died at the family home in Williamsville on Thursday, March 26, 2020. He was 90 years old.
Mr. Becker is survived by two children, Dianne Becker of St. Louis and Brian (Toni) Becker of Northeast Arkansas; his daughter-in-law, Pam Howard Becker of Williamsville; five grandchildren, Kaylin (Adam), Andrea (Jeff), Coulton, Benjamin and Jackson; and one great-granddaughter, Sloane. Also surviving is his sister, Elizabeth Brackett of Hamilton, NY, and many nieces, nephews and friends.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Patti McCracken Becker; his parents, Coulton M. and Grace Dulaney Becker; brothers Edward, William, and John; a sister, Dr. Caroline Long, and son, Robert Coulton Becker.
Jim was born on January 11, 1930, in St. Louis, but spent most of his life on his beloved Rolling Shoals Farm, founded by his father more than 100 years ago, along the Black River near Williamsville. He attended the University of Missouri – Columbia, graduating with a degree in agricultural engineering in 1951. He also served in the U.S. Army in Korea during the Korean Conflict.
He married Patti McCracken of Kansas in 1954. The couple returned to the family farm, where he worked with brothers Bill and John before being joined in the 1980s by his son, Bob, and two nephews. Rolling Shoals Farm has been known for its innovative and progressive approach to agriculture with a diversified farm operation. The Beckers were early advocates of artificial insemination and were known for their rainbow cattle herd and intensive grazing. Jim led University of Missouri Extension Service workshops for other farmers in the area.
Patti and Jim were the cover story in Successful Farming magazine in 1964. The article and photos featured the home they designed that overlooks the farm. They were named Wayne County Farm Family of the Year in the 1960s and the farm received a Missouri Farm Management Award in 1975. In 2016, Rolling Shoals became a century farm.
A longtime member of the First United Methodist Church of Poplar Bluff and the Wesleyan Class, Jim taught Sunday School and sang in the Chancel Choir. For 20 years, he was a member of the Williamsville United Methodist Church, where he also taught Sunday School, sang in the choir and was hymn leader.
Jim became a private pilot and flew the family to Guatemala in 1970. Jim and Patti enjoyed traveling and have the slide shows to prove it, including People to People tours to China and Russia, revisiting Korea, and volunteered on mission projects.
For many years, he was involved with Boy Scouts as Scoutmaster of Troop 360. He was an Eagle Scout, as well as both his sons and a grandson. He was an avid quail hunter and raised Brittany Spaniels. He was an active athlete – water skiing, snow skiing (even at the age of 88), playing tennis, volleyball and ping pong. He attended the majority of the sporting events of his grandchildren. Until a stroke in 2018, Jim was a regular at Black River Coliseum swimming a mile each week. Even after the stroke, he continued to sing in the church choir.
In the 1960s, Jim and a group of friends started an investment club, meeting monthly to pool their money and make stock investments. That continued for more than 50 years. Becker followed in his father’s footsteps in keeping the Williamsville rainfall amounts for the National Weather Service for more than 50 years. A founding member of the Black River Fire District, he served on the board since it began.
Jim was an avid gardener and instrumental in starting the Williamsville Community Garden. He was well-known for his football-sized sweet potatoes, one weighing more than 13 pounds.
Jim enjoyed performing cowboy poetry and had a dozen Baxter Black poems memorized. For several years, he volunteered at the VA Hospital weekly, telling farm stories and reciting poems.
A memorial service will be held in the summer. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Cardinal Legacy Foundation for Baseball, an organization he helped his son Brian start to give area youth an opportunity for college recruitment and scholarships through baseball. FoundationForBaseball.org, P.O. Box 71, Williamsville, MO 63967 or to the Robert C. Becker Music Scholarship Fund at First United Methodist Church in Poplar Bluff.