PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- The wide rivers and the opportunity for a fresh start brought the first settlers to the bit of Illinois prairie known as Pike County, but what made them stay and put down roots was the land.
The land and the farms tell the story of people who turned a county of woodland, creeks and tall grasses into a vital part of American agriculture stretching from Nebo to Fishhook, Atlas to Hull, New Canton to Chambersburg.
Memories of Pike County farm families shaped "Lilacs, Land and Long-Necked Chickens" performed Saturday afternoon as part of the centennial celebration for Pike County Farm Bureau.
The four-performance run of the one-act readers theater production wraps up with a sold-out matinee this afternoon at the United Methodist Church in Perry.
The production -- one of the last penned by Ken Bradbury, a Pike County native and prolific playwright, who died in November -- helps celebrate 100 years of Farm Bureau in Pike County.
"It's a history of the farmers and farming in Pike County," cast member Andy Borrowman said.
Bradbury based the production on interviews with more than three dozen Farm Bureau families with words and music touching on "farm life, kids, food, animals, machinery, the dangers of farming -- all the different aspects that make up farming not just in Pike County but any rural county," said Blake Roderick, a cast member and executive director of the Pike-Scott Farm Bureau.
The cast of 10 readers and four musicians performed for an audience filled with longtime Bradbury fans and with long ties to the county's agriculture.
"It's part of our history, part of our heritage here in Pike County. Ag is the largest industry in West-Central Illinois," Griggsville farmer Phil Bradshaw said.
"I've known Ken Bradbury for years and his family. Our families were farmers," said Sherry Ranft of Pittsfield. "Pike County is a farming community."
Producer and show manager Lynn Curry helped interview Pike County residents to provide the material used by Bradbury in writing the play, which was directed by Maryjane Million.
"He used information in those stories to create the play and weave it all together with historical information about people moving into Illinois and Pike County from the east back in the day," Curry said.
Most interesting, Curry said, was interviewing farm couples and hearing them both answer questions touching on happy times, sad times and challenges in farming and their lives.
Work on the production began more than a year ago, and the cast came together for the first time in March for a read-through followed by practices in May and June.
"I know the majority of the people that were interviewed. Some of the stories I can relate to," Borrowman said. "This was something I felt like I could do. We're reading. We don't have to memorize any lines. I could handle that."
Working with the production was important "because I was a farm girl myself, and my husband is president of Pike-Scott Farm Bureau," Curry said. "Think of this reader's theater as Farm Bureau's gift to our community for 100 years of making Pike County great."
The production provided a way to benefit the Two Rivers Farm Bureau Foundation, which primarily supports scholarships and Ag in the Classroom – along with disaster relief again this year with the rising floodwaters as it did at its founding in 1994.
Curry said the play's title was drawn from two of the stories, including one about a young man putting lilacs under the seat of his car when picking up his prom date so the car would smell nice, and the importance of the land and how it influenced so many things in people's lives.
"It all fit together," Curry said. "I think Ken would have approved."