Effingham Daily News
Billy Genaust said the people of Effingham are stunned not only at the size of the turnips he grows, but also of the price he charges.
“We don’t charge anything at all,” said Genaust who also said he advertises about the free produce in newspapers and offers them for no charge to churches. “We kinda encourage the churches to take ’em out to the elderly.”
Genaust has grown 3 acres of sweet corn and turnips — some of them as large as 14 pounds — every year for the past 20 years.
“Some people don’t have the means or the place to plant ’em,” said Genaust, who also said he wants everyone to be able to enjoy fresh food.
This year, Genaust said he plans on talking to local schools to see if they would like any of his home-grown goods to make their way into school cafeteria dishes.
Genaust served in the United States Air Force from 1950 to 1953 at the personnel wing handling orders. After his service, he started work at the District 12 office for the Illinois State Police for 38 years, 2 months and 15 days, he said, laughing.
“I was there longer than anyone else who worked there,” said Genaust.
After the state police, Genaust served on the Effingham County Board, for which he eventually became chairman.
Today, Genaust spends time with hobbies outside his careers of service. The turnips, for example, are one of his joys.
People are often shocked at the size of his turnips, Genaust said. He said people often ask how he grows them so large.
“(You have to) get the seeds planted after the sweet corn is out,” said Genaust.
He said it needs to rain after the seeds are planted, and if the turnips get a full growing season, they will grow large.
And what he grows affects the whole community. Genaust said he believes the people of Effingham appreciate his contribution.
“Sometimes when I go into a restaurant, someone will say thank you for the sweet corn or turnips,” said Genaust.
Genaust’s knack for charity crosses over into his service and hobbies. The 81-year-old, who switched from a motorcycle to a trike, has helped with charitable donations to the Effingham Police Department and the Effingham Sheriff’s Department.
“That’s me in the front,” said Genaust pointing to a picture of a 30 motorcycle procession.
A group he belongs to collected Teddy bears to give to the authorities. Genaust said the bears are then given to children who went through car wrecks or other traumatic events. Genaust said one year, 1,500 Teddy bears were collected.
“It kind of takes the stress away,” he said.
Laughing in surprise as he counted, Genaust, who also has a sport airplane, said he has owned 10 motorcycles during his life.
But it’s not the bikes or the planes, or even the turnips, that keep Genaust going. It’s the strong sense of community and charity that makes him thrive.
In fact, Genaust said he has had to stop people from writing letters recommending him for the person of the year award.
“I just think there are so many people out there who are better than me,” said Genaust.
Ryan Ellis can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.