WEST BRATTLEBORO—As the scent of cows mingled with that of roasting pork, Helen (Thurber) and Charlie Robb Sr. celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last Saturday by renewing their vows then enjoying an ice cream social and pig roast at the family farm on Ames Hill Road.
The Robbs were married on July 25, 1964, at the West Brattleboro Baptist Church. The church’s current pastor, Steve McClelland, presided over the ceremony as their four children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild looked on.
About 100 friends and neighbors joined the Robbs in the front yard of the farm under the shade of their maple trees, as a few of their cows mooed approvingly from the pasture.
“It’s pretty overwhelming to see friends and family from all over,” said Helen. Included were the original wedding party, some of whom she said she hadn’t seen in 50 years.
They renewed their vows in front of Helen’s original wedding dress, which hung from a pergola of white birch. Beside it was a portrait from their wedding day.
The Robbs’ original wedding started 20 minutes late. According to their eldest son, Charlie Jr., his mother insisted they pause to visit an elderly neighbor who was house-bound and couldn’t get to the church to enjoy her wedding dress.
In a reprise of the original ceremony, Saturday’s vows took place at 2:20 p.m.
When someone asked whether she could still fit into her wedding dress, Helen replied that “I can get my arm inside.”
She acknowledged that her marriage to Charlie wasn’t always a bed of roses. There were times, she said, it seemed like they had nothing in common.
“Anything that is worth it takes hard work, and marriage is hard work,” she said, adding that it took “faith, prayer, and a lot of work” to keep their marriage strong.
“And now, it’s stronger than ever,” she said.
“I’ve been blessed to have her as a partner for 50 years,” said Charlie. “Farming is a hard life, and you need someone to share the burden. She’s a great lady.”
As the Robbs enjoyed cake and ice cream served by their children and grandchildren, Helen looked out over the multitude of people under the tent in their front yard.
“There are a lot of memories in this tent,” she said.
Some of those memories were on display at the edge of the tent, with family photos galore in albums carefully arranged on old chairs.
Keeping the farm going
Robb farm was for more than a century a dairy farm. That changed in August, 2011, when Helen and Charlie, who ran the farm with Charlie Jr. and his wife, Karen, got out of the business. Now, they raise and sell grass-fed beef to a growing clientele.
The farm also expanded maple production to include its own maple candy, cream, sugar, and maple ice cream toppings.
“I’m glad I got out of it,” Charlie Sr. said of the decision. “At my age (77), raising cattle is a lot easier than getting up at four in the morning to milk.”
It wasn’t just the work of milking a herd of cows twice a day, every day, year-round that wore down the Robbs. Wild fluctuations in fluid milk prices, plus the ever-increasing cost of feed, fuel, seed, and fertilizer, meant it no longer made economic sense to run a small dairy with 50 to 55 cows.
Diversification, and producing value-added food products, means that the Robb Family Farm can stay in production and provide the family a decent living.
The Robbs have served the Brattleboro community through the years on boards and committees such as the Farm Bureau and the Brattleboro Agriculture Committee, and they have served as deacon and deaconess at the West Brattleboro Baptist Church.
Helen also continues to serve on the general committee for Strolling of the Heifers, while Charlie is a Town Meeting representative from District 1.