Still Going Strong
Jacob Megehee, cattle producer
Extension continues assisting one of Mississippi’s most successful beef producers
Beef cattle producer Jacob “Jake” Megehee identifies cattle producers’ needs and publicizes them at the highest levels. Elected officials and fellow cattlemen all over the country respect his personal success raising and selling beef cattle through Megehee Cattle Company.
He spent seven years on active duty, serving one year in Vietnam and three years in Europe. An Army helicopter pilot, he received 27 medals. In order of precedence, they are the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, five Purple Heart medals, one Air Medal with Valor device, 19 Air Medals, and other medals “just for being there,” Jake says.
He went on to serve 22 more years in the National Guard and Army Reserves. He commanded the 75th Field Hospital in Alabama at Tuscaloosa, Huntsville, and Montgomery. He participated in Desert Shield/Desert Storm before he retired as a full Colonel.
He’s a man dedicated to God and his wife, Martha. Their three children, Alison Palmiter, Paul Megehee, and Maria Megehee, are already grown, but they remain close to their parents. Alison lives with her husband in New Market, Alabama, and their three children, Paige, Lauren, and Cara. Paul and his wife live in Scottsboro, Alabama, with their children Jacob and Claire, while Maria, the youngest, lives in Franklin, Tennessee.
“We must give God the credit for all the joy that we have,” Jake emphasizes. “We’re Southern Baptists, and we’ve been at First Baptist Church of Macon a long time, where Martha has been the piano accompanist for 41 years, and she plays the violin and organ.”
Just drive out to Macon, and turn up the gravel drive to survey the rolling cow pasture as you approach the beautifully landscaped yard in front of the house. Walk through the doors of the Megehee’s spacious, pleasant home, and Jacob and Martha will immediately offer you a nonalcoholic drink and a chair. They’re happy for you to relax, sit back, and listen to their love story.
Highlights will no doubt include how their mutual devotion and hard work have been the foundation of their long-term success, including their:
- Fifty-two years of marriage.
- Life in Europe while Jacob was an Army helicopter pilot.
- Macon home they built and Martha painted, decorated, and landscaped.
- Development and expansion of one of the most successful private quality beef cattle production operations in Mississippi.
- Years of working with Extension agents and receiving education, support, and expertise in agriculture, family consumer sciences, and 4-H.
Growing up with Extension
Jake’s earliest memory of the Extension Service is a grafting session led by agent J. M. Sinclair at his childhood home in Pearl River County. He grafted four varieties of camellias onto a single bush for a total of five different stunning blooms. It was planted in the Megehees’ yard.
“Now, I get teary-eyed when I tell this, but every time I go back and the camellias are blooming, I see that plant in my mother’s yard that the Extension Service planted, and I remember that demonstration J. M. Sinclair gave on grafting plants,” Jake says.
“There were five varieties of camellias on that bush, but it only has four kinds of blooms now because when Hurricane Camille came through in 1969, it blew a large pine tree down across that camellia, and we lost one of those grafts. But it’s still there, growing in the yard.”
His parents always attended Extension’s Farm and Home Week at MSU. Both college graduates, they valued receiving the most up-to-date information in agricultural technology and home management.
“My parents brought that technology home, not just in production agriculture and home making,” Jake remembers. “It was in community and organization activities—keeping your churches alive and well, helping to keep your cemeteries well maintained, training your elected officials to govern better, and keeping your farms, families, and communities alive and well. So you see, Extension has always played a major role in our lives.”
Not only did Jake meet and work with the Extension agents who were assisting his parents, but he was also a proud 4-H’er as soon as he was old enough to join the MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Program. His parents had beef and dairy cattle, as well as hogs, and he was enthusiastic about showing livestock.
Jake learned leadership in 4-H: he was a state officer, attended 4-H Club Congress four times, and went to Washington, D.C., twice—all before his senior year of high school even began.
During his final 4-H trip to the nation’s capitol, the associate Extension director asked Jake to visit Mississippi Sen. John C. Stennis, a Democrat who served from 1947 until 1989. At first, Jake was nervous that his roommate had gotten into trouble. However, when he went to Stennis’s office, Jake discovered something very different was going on.
“Senator Stennis said, ‘We’re having problems getting funding for the Extension Service. Would you go with me and visit the Secretary of Agriculture? You’re just a farm youth that comes from humble beginnings, and you’ve seen the value of the Extension Service. So, would you go with me?’” Jake recalls. “We spent the entire morning with the Secretary of Agriculture. I got a really nice letter about six months later from him that said funding had come through, and he appreciated our input.
“It’s a perfect example of what we can do in a free, democratic society. You can drag a little country boy right up to the Secretary of Agriculture and voice how your community and your county is receiving benefits from the Extension Service.”
Becoming a beef producer
Jake went to MSU to earn his bachelor’s degree in dairy production, but Martha, known before marriage as Martha Anne Sones, went to University of Southern Mississippi to earn her bachelor’s in elementary education. She graduated at 20 and began teaching first-grade at Pearl River Central, then second- and third-grades at Bertie-Rouse Elementary in Picayune.
After Jake graduated, he went to the Army and started piloting helicopters. During flight school, he married Martha, who was his best friend in high school, and he was stationed in Germany for the next three years.
“I flew helicopters all over Europe, and I got to see cows, cows, and cows,” Jake says. “I would see these remote dairy farms that were in the mountains. Then, on the weekends, we would drive out and look at them.”
After Germany, Jake was stationed in Vietnam. He was wounded five different times.
“I know it sounds bad, but I had a bullet go in here and a scar across here,” he explains, gesturing to his chest. “I never missed a day of flying. You know, you learn that in 4-H: that you do your best for your fellow man, your club, community, country, and world. I got shot five times, but I was always over open terrain and never put a scratch on the helicopter.
“I flew 2,004 combat hours in a medical evacuation helicopter in 50 weeks. That averages to about six hours per day. God has always blessed me immensely.”
Once active duty was over, Jake served 22 more years, in the National Guard and then the Army Reserves. During that time, he completed his master’s degree at MSU in agricultural economics.
After the family bought a farm in Macon, Martha began substituting at Central Academy. She spent several years with homemaking as her primary duty before returning to work with the Mississippi Department of Human Services, where she worked for 23 years as the supervisor for economic assistance. She completed a mission trip to Poland, where she helped teach Bible school.
“Now, this is the beauty of a wife: She looks at things logically. The smartest thing I ever did was marrying Martha. She was just 20 when she graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in elementary education,” Jake says. “And she wasn’t going to do dairy.”
“No,” Martha laughs. “I wanted a life, and when you dairy, you’re up in the middle of the night and you’re up all day long. Then you have to come home and take a nap because you’ve got to do it again. So we do beef instead.”
The Megehee’s children participated in 4-H activities as soon as they were old enough. They showed livestock, participated in 4-H camps, and completed service projects.
Jake began managing MSU’s South Farm, known today as the H.H. Leveck Animal Research Center. He became the director of services for the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station. He also flew helicopters and fixed wing-aircraft for MSU.
However, with 700 head of beef cattle and three children at home, the time had come for a break. He accepted a teaching job at East Mississippi Community College and started focusing on growing his business, and Extension was with him every step of the way.
“There’s always a specialist from Extension giving classes, and Martha always goes. I’d say Martha probably knows as much as any cattle producer in this state just because she goes to all the classes,” Jake says. “We in the cattle business, in the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association, in the Farm Bureau, rely heavily on Extension.
“Extension agents are out there helping. I was in there just yesterday,” Jake muses, “and I was amazed at the number of phone calls they were getting from people whose tomatoes aren’t doing well. Most phone call are for horticulture, and Extension helps them, too.”
Martha is enrolled in Master Gardener training, a popular volunteer program with college-level training for individuals interested in horticulture. Not only do Master Gardeners help beautify and maintain their own gardens, but they also offer volunteer services to assist in beautifying their communities.
Extension Service agents and specialists help anyone facing a challenge, whether it’s related to a lawn, a rose bush, or cattle marketing, Jake says.
“Extension, in providing this help to these people—it’s really adding to the quality of life that people have. Maybe they aren’t adding years to their lives, but they are adding life to their years,” Jake emphasizes. “That’s the best way to say it: Extension is adding good life to people’s years all across the state of Mississippi.”
Impacting Mississippi and beyond
One new Extension program is having major results for Mississippi beef producers, Jake says. The Homeplace Producers Board Sale is a cooperative effort led by Extension, including producers, livestock marketers, and representatives of Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, Mississippi Beef Cattle Improvement Association, and the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association.
Farmweek, Mississippi’s oldest and only locally produced agricultural news show, is produced by Extension. Megehee credits lead anchor Leighton Spann for the production of a nationally relevant piece that featured interviews with beef producers, videos of cattle, clips from the Southeast Mississippi Livestock Auction, and Megehee’s best cattle.
“This piece was shown on Farmweek, and it appeared several times on RFD-TV. Many beef producers in several states saw the fine presentation Extension created, and they have started programs similar to Mississippi’s Homeplace Producers Board Sale,” Jake explains. “Many people speak to me at National Cattlemen Beef Association meetings, and they have seen me on TV promoting sale of cattle on the Internet by the Extension Service.”
The video-marketing piece continues being played all over the country, Jake says. Even when he recently visited San Diego, California, Jake was approached by at least 20 producers who had seen it, and they all had great things to say about beef cattle production in Mississippi.
“I take great pleasure in letting the Extension Director Dr. Gary Jackson know how diligently his fellow workers are in making good things happen in our beef cattle industry,” Jake says. “We can praise the Extension Service all day long.”
When Jake prepares beef cattle for sale in state venues, he is confident that Extension beef cattle specialists will promote the event appropriately. He says Extension personnel are well qualified to screen the cattle for sale and generate the interest necessary to ensure that sale prices will benefit producers.
From the livestock shows Extension produces to the online video marketing of Mississippi beef cattle, Extension is using its research to ensure beef production continues to be successful for farmers across the state, he says.
“Extension people are salt-of-the-earth people. When you have an emergency in the community, those are the people who show up to help,” Jake says. “They keep the rural churches alive and going. They make sure the little local volunteer fire department and staff get the equipment they need, including the fire trucks. They keep the little community cemetery taken care of.
“Extension keeps the community going—that’s all there is to it.”
In the (cattle) fields... Martha is an active member of the:
- Mississippi CattleWomen’s Association
- Alabama CattleWomen’s Association
- American National CattleWomen
Jake is an active member of the:
- Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association
- Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association
- Alabama Cattlemen’s Association
- Mississippi Beef Board
- National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Not only has Jake served as Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association President, he was also a member of the association’s steering committee. He currently serves on the nominating committee of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federation, a 10- member group that approves $46.8 million of the beef checkoff fund collected from producers to promote and research beef. Jake was inducted into the 2016 Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association Hall of Fame in February.