Elizabeth “Betty” Conant died in her sleep Saturday at her Canton home.
Conant was known as the matriarch of Conant Acres, a leader within the community and an accomplished seamstress and cook. She was 78.
Her granddaughter, Natalie Sheller, said Conant was the hardest worker at the farm, equally capable of running a sewing machine or using a jackknife or a whisk.
Conant was dedicated to her family, always making time to attend her children’s or grandchildren’s games, fair showings and graduations, despite seemingly endless work at the farm, Sheller said.
With her death, family and friends are celebrating her long life on the farm and legacy within the community. Those celebrations are in person, over the telephone and on Facebook.
Conant grew up in Canton and graduated in 1960 — as valedictorian — from the local high school. She married classmate Duane Conant shortly after they finished high school.
Conant and her husband began working the family farm established by her in-laws in the 1930s. Sheller said her grandparents worked for years to cultivate a herd of dairy cattle known for their pedigree and conformation.
Sheller said her grandparents would rise at 2 a.m. to begin their work on the farm. They began so early so they could be free later in the day to support their children’s extracurricular activities and athletic pursuits.
Conant was involved with every aspect of the farm, from managing the paperwork to feeding livestock.
“Her calloused hands raised babies, prepared delicious meals for our family table, literally built a home and farm, cared for thousands of calves, threw hay bales, tended gardens, picked acres of sweet corn and did anything and everything else that needed to be done,” read a message posted by the family on Facebook.
The only thing she refused to learn was milking the cows.
“She always joked that she didn’t want to learn how,” Sheller said. “If she learned how, then she could be left alone to run everything for the day. It was the one job she wasn’t interested in learning.”
In addition to her work on the farm, Conant was actively engaged in the local community as a 4-H leader, an avid supporter of local sports teams and a caring neighbor.
Nicole Knowles, a family friend and former member of 4-H, knew Conant for more than 30 years. Knowles said she and many other children in the community learned about agriculture, sewing and cooking from Conant.
“There’s not much that we didn’t learn from Betty,” Knowles said. “She had a very influential part in a lot of the young children (lives).”
As Knowles grew older, Conant remained an important person in her life, even sewing her wedding dress.
“It was pretty amazing in 2009 to be fitted and have her work on my dress in the very place that I started sewing with her,” Knowles said.
Sheller said her grandparents have been “cheerleaders” within the community, attending basketball games and other sporting events to cheer on the kids, even after their own children and grandchildren graduated.
“Tournament week was almost like a holiday week for them,” Knowles said. “They made sure everything was done in time to go to Augusta to watch the girls play.”
Beyond supporting local youths, Conant and her husband have also worked to help the community in times of need. According to Knowles, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Conant and her husband gathered people together to raise money so they could provide milk for local food pantries.
Knowles remembers Conant as an independent, strong-willed woman.
“Right up until a couple of years ago,” Knowles said, “you would drive through during harvest, and there’s little old Betty driving a great big truck, like a tractor-trailer body, with a dump on the back filled with corn.”
Although Conant’s eyesight deteriorated in recent years and she was no longer able to drive on the road, she was never one to sit still, Sheller said.
In her final years, Conant would ride around the farm on her John Deere side-by-side to oversee the work being done on the farm.
“Even as recently as a couple weeks ago, it was very common for members of the family to be working in the field and to hear the side-by-side coming,” Sheller said. “Betty wanted to see how things were going and help in any way she could.”
Source: Sun Journal