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Weekly 150: John H. Moseley

Moseley Seed and Produce

Posted 4/27/21

For 65 years, Moseley Seed and Produce was a fixture in McKenzie. The business was synonymous with John H. Moseley, but the story of the feed store begins with his father, George Leonard Moseley (1887-1962).

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Weekly 150: John H. Moseley

Moseley Seed and Produce

Posted

For 65 years, Moseley Seed and Produce was a fixture in McKenzie. The business was synonymous with John H. Moseley, but the story of the feed store begins with his father, George Leonard Moseley (1887-1962).

About 1920, Leonard with his brother-in-law, Robert Phillips, opened a country store west of Gleason at the Hill Top community. In 1925, they sold the business. Leonard and his wife, Ella Lee (1893-1983), moved the family to McKenzie. He began farming on rented land and worked Saturdays for The Farmers’ Store, a grocery, seed and feed store in McKenzie.

Two years later, he managed the McKenzie location of the Bridges Produce Company on Cedar Street. The group was headquartered out of Henderson, Tennessee. As the Great Depression set in, the company was bankrupt, and the McKenzie branch was given to Leonard as long as he could keep it running.

The Moseley Produce Company was then established and fought hard to survive. Leonard bought and sold live poultry, eggs, hides, wild game, vegetables, feed and fruit. According to family records, “the business survived a serious blow when a bank holiday was declared by President Roosevelt and the McKenzie Bank did not reopen. He lost all but the money he kept out of the day’s deposit to make the change.”

Leonard’s second son, John, was familiar with the family business as he worked for his father while he was in high school. He was expected to work after school and on non-school days. “Daddy knew when the teachers had meetings on Fridays, he’d holler bright and early to get up and go,” John recalled of his father.

Before graduating high school, John played high school football for the Yellow Jackets, McKenzie’s mascot before becoming the Rebels. His work for Leonard consisted of running a route to Gleason and the Tumbling Creek community.

In John’s senior year of high school, he was drafted by the United States Army. His induction was delayed for two months so he could finish high school. After graduation, he was sent to Camp Wheeling, Georgia for basic training and then shipped to the European Theatre to join the Third Infantry Division.

He saw action on the bloody beach at Anzio as Allied forces invaded Italy in September 1943. From Italy, they took part in an amphibious assault on the French coast. On Christmas Eve, 1944, John was nearly killed following a mortar assault. “Both my legs were broken and I had 144 holes in my body,” John said of the shrapnel attack.

Sent to recuperate in England, a doctor noticed how slowly he was healing and decided to send him back stateside. The war was over several months before he was allowed to return home. After returning home, John wasn’t too sure of what he wanted to do. He went to Bethel College for a year and then worked in Memphis before returning to McKenzie.

In 1948, John decided to buy the produce business. Leonard had sold the business to Cleo Beasley during the war and John bought it back.

“One of my dad’s requests was that as long as he lived he wanted to see a Moseley produce company in McKenzie,” said John.

Later, John purchased Paul Carroll’s shares of McKenzie Seed Company and went into partnership with Billy Vawter, until Vawter decided he wanted to do something else. John became the sole owner of the seed company. During this time, John operated a poultry business on Hamilton Street which consisted of chicken houses and a processing plant.

In the early 1950s, he moved his produce and seed business to the old terminal building downtown along the old rail line. He later moved the mill to what’s now Forrest Avenue. In 1971, he sold his interest to W.R. Grace and Company but continued to work for the firm. Ten years later, he bought back the business.

John partnered with Ben Surber for many years in a hog farming operation. It started with a purchase of 1000 hogs from Brown Aden. After 30 days of feeding, the hogs were sold with the money reinvested in more pigs and a leased location to raise them.

“Ben and I made some good money together,” said John. “I told him I’d rather have his luck than be rich.”

In 1996, John announced his retirement and the sale of the feed mill to Gary Meek.

Over the years, John found time to take part in various civic activities. Including 17 years on the McKenzie City Council, 18 years on the McKenzie Special School District Board of Education and a stint on the city’s Water Commission.

“I don’t believe the saying that you can’t hold public office and be in business,” said John. “I don’t think I ever lost a customer, you just have to treat everyone right and be fair.”

John died in September, 1998 and was buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery. His wife, Melba, was laid to rest next to him in January, 2007.

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