Mount Crawford Native Virgil Huffman Still Tilling
Posted: October 15, 2013
By Matt Gonzales
At 88, Virgil Huffman is still active on the farm, disking ground, raking and making hay. (Photo by Matt Gonzales / DN-R)
“Look at this right here — this is from my time playing baseball.”
Virgil Huffman’s eyes set on an antique wooden case which holds worn wooden Louisville slugger baseball bats. Just above rests a glass case holding a dozen baseballs that have faded from white to light beige through the years. Each ball is memorialized by a former teammate of the now 88-year-old Huffman.
“I played from the 1940s through the 60s,” Huffman recalls of his time as part of the Valley Baseball League. “I played for the Harrisonburg Turks most of the time, but I had a brief stint with the Staunton Braves, too. It was a lot of fun.”
Wearing faded brown shoes and a flannel button up, Huffman stands before the memorabilia while supporting his weight with a cane and reminisces of his time playing baseball with great pride.
“It was a lot of fun. I played catcher for years,” says Huffman.
In his nearly nine decades, Huffman has seen a lot. He was born in September 1925 — the same month as blues performer B.B. King and the same year F. Scott Fitzgerald published “The Great Gatsby.”
He has lived in Mount Crawford his entire life, save for the year he spent in the military. He was born in a two-level white Victorian house situated on Koiner Ford Road and currently lives about a quarter mile up the road. The old home is still standing, and is now occupied by a new family.
Huffman fondly recalls memories growing up in the house. It was there he turned on his radio just as legendary New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig gave his emotional farewell speech and, two years later, when news broke of an attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I didn’t know what to think of [the attacks on Pearl Harbor] when it happened — it was kind of a shock,” recalls Huffman. “By that time, I knew I was going to be going into the military,”
In 1944, Huffman was drafted into the United States Navy as a Seaman Second Class, which led to a his working on aircraft carriers and training pilots. He was stationed at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island for a year before he was discharged, as the war ended.
After a brief stint in college, Huffman worked at a saw conservation company for several years before he took a job at American Safety Razor in Verona, where he produced a variety of razors, including industrial and surgical blades. He worked at ASR until his retirement in 1985.
That was a year Huffman will never forget.
That summer, Huffman recalls visiting his son, Larry Douglas — who at the time was a coronel in the Marine Corps — in Georgia. One morning, Huffman, along with a few family members, went fishing, a hobby he enjoys.
Upon his return to the house, he learned that his wife, Verna — whom he had been married to for 38 years — had succumbed to an aneurism in her sleep.
Huffman says that is a moment in his life that he will never forget.
“That — that was one of the biggest shocks of my life,” says Huffman.
Following Verna’s death, Huffman decided to retire and take care of his youngest son, Kenny, who was born with cerebral palsy. Kenny passed away in 2002 at the age of 40.
“His mind was good, he was a sharp kid,” recalls Huffman.
He says he remains close with all of his kids, even going to have dinner with his two daughters — Betty Lynn and Karen — who both work in the healthcare field.
A Lasting Friendship
Huffman sits back in his recliner, staring at his mobile phone.
“He should be here any minute,” says Huffman.
Moments later, in walks Walter Coceano.
A neighbor and longtime friend of Huffman, the 55-year-old former contractor built Huffman’s house.
“I’ve known about Virgil since I was in high school in the 70s,” says Coceano. “My dad knew him back then, but I didn’t really get to know him until I built his house — it was sometime in the 80s, wasn’t it?”
Coceano looks over at Huffman for confirmation.
“No, it was ’93. That was the same year I had my heart bypass [surgery].”
Coceano says he and Huffman are close friends, despite the 33 year age difference. Huffman, who has worked on farms throughout his entire life, constantly gives Coceano advice when it comes to farming technique, and, despite his advanced age, assists Coceano with farm work, which includes disking ground.
Growing up in the early 20th century, Huffman would disk ground using horses, as opposed to the modern approach of using a tractor. As tractors popularized, Huffman says life on the farm became a bit easier.
To this day, Huffman will still spend hours on a farm, either riding a tractor or helping cover crop with rye or barley to keep the ground in tact and avoid erosion. He also does some tedding and raking.
Coceano says they have formed somewhat of a tag-team approach when taking care of Coceano’s leased farm land in the springtime — he does the mowing while Huffman does the raking, on top of haymaking duties.
“There’s not a whole lot I can do right now, but I do what I can,” says Huffman. “I like helping people out.”
Huffman says he enjoys living a simple life, which includes fishing, watching baseball and taking care of his yard during warm-weather.
On occasion, he and Coceano take a trip up north to Pennsylvania to peruse new and antique machinery at a given farm show. The two men even attend Valley League Baseball games together, given Huffman’s love for the sport.
“Whenever I’m bored, I go to see Walter.”
Coceano has tremendous appreciation for Huffman, everything he’s been through, and everything he continues to do.
“Virgil’s a top notch guy,” says Coceano. “You’re not going to find anybody better than him. He goes out of his way to do something for you — if you’ve got a problem, he’s going to be there to help you out.
“He’s a good friend of mine, and of a lot of people in this community.”
Contact Matt Gonzales at (540) 574-6265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.