Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer|
John Mayfield with son Will. Mayfield, an engineer, has been named the Morgan County Cattlewomen’s Father of the Year.
He’s a top dad
Boeing engineer keeps busy with 6-year-old and a herd of cattle
By Patrice Stewart
It’s hard to play dad to a herd of cows, but rearing a child isn’t always easy, either.
John Mayfield of Danville does both.
He makes it all look simple, too, handling with equal ease 25 mama cows and their calves, a couple of bulls, a wife, a son they went to Russia to adopt, and a full-time job as a Boeing Co. structural engineer.
He evens finds time to help out his church and the Morgan County Cattlemen’s Association.
The Morgan County Cattlewomen’s Association decided Mayfield’s efforts should be rewarded with its annual Father of the Year honor, said spokeswoman Athelia Gibbs. He will be honored at the annual covered-dish dinner Thursday.
Mayfield, 46, may drive only to the next county to buy and sell cattle, but he went all the way to Russia to bring home Will, now 6.
“He’s named William Hugh for both his granddaddies, but I call him Buddy,” said Mayfield, who often gets a bit of extra “help” to ride along when he heads to the pasture to check on his cattle.
He and Will have come a long way in the 41/2 years since they got home from Russia and settled down to life in the farm area around Danville.
“There were no men around his orphanage in Russia, and he would scream and cry every time I’d pick him up,” Mayfield recalled.
“His world was turned upside down and shook real hard, and at 22 months he went from where everyone spoke Russian to a place where he had no idea what people were saying. But kids are quite resilient and bounce back well,” he said.
“Now he just enjoys being a rambunctious little boy, and he likes to spend time with me. He’s like a little Xerox machine — you have to watch what you do and say, because he’ll pick it up.”
Adjusting to country life
Will caught on to the country life quickly, with the help of gifts of child-size John Deere tractors to pedal and smaller ones with which to play. “He’s got enough toy farm tractors and toy cars to fill a city, and he loves trains, too,” said Mayfield.
“He loves it out here. Our neighbor has horses and we have dogs and he likes going over to our farm with the cows, but I have to be careful, because there are so many ways he can get hurt.”
His wife, Miranda, said Will “just loves his daddy, and his daddy would conquer the world for him. John is very proud of him and plays with him and tries to teach him everything he can.”
Mayfield said he grew up in the Northport-Tuscaloosa area around more horses than cows, but his family helped raise a few steers. That experience came in handy, because now this family of three is living the dream of Miranda’s dad.
A Champion Paper employee, he was planning to develop the farm before he died of an aneurysm before his daughter even began dating Mayfield. She had no brothers, but other family members helped keep her dad’s cattle operation going.
“I’ve been around big animals most of my life, but this farm was in her family, and we took the cattle operation over after we married and settled in,” Mayfield said.
His degree, however, was in aerospace engineering at The University of Alabama. He worked for United Space Boosters in Huntsville and for Martin Marietta Corp. in Colorado and then came back to this area to work for Boeing in Huntsville. He got a master’s in mechanical engineering from The University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Decision to adopt
He was well past 30 by the time he met and married Miranda. After a miscarriage and other problems, they began looking into adoption. They found an agency in Nashville called “Small World” and decided to go with its Russian adoption program.
Will is John and Miranda Mayfield’s only child. He was adopted from Russia.
“Adoption is a long, drawn-out process with a lot of points of frustration,” said Mayfield. “It took over a year to get all the paperwork and home visits handled; it seemed that every time we opened the mailbox, there was something else to fill out.
“But it was all worth it.”
He and Miranda had decided on a boy, and they had to make two trips to Russia after receiving videos and medical information on several children. After checking them out, “We thought Will would be a good fit for us,” he said.
They originally thought one trip would do, but Russia changed its rules during the process, so it took two. “The first time was for a week in July, to meet him, and the second time, in October, it took three weeks to handle all the court stuff. But you’re at their mercy when you start down this road,” said Mayfield.
“Three weeks in the Ural Mountains of Russia is a long time,” he recalled. “We were in a city with no English newspaper, TV or radio, and probably only one other couple in town who spoke English and were there to adopt. And it got cold in a hurry. We got there in late October and the lows were in the 30s and the highs in the 40s, but by the time we left, the temperatures had dropped to single digits — with lows in minus single digits.”
He said some of the worst roads he’s ever been on were in central Russia. “We’d call them farm trails around here.”
While the roads and buildings weren’t much, he said the people at the orphanage “did a good job with what they had, and they cared about the kids.” The orphanage had just had an outbreak of chickenpox, he recalled, and the medicine applied “was lime green, making them look like little Martian babies.”
Mayfield encourages others to consider foreign adoptions. “We have good friends who are in China right now to adopt,” he said.
They feel fortunate that Will settled right in with few problems other than the usual childhood ear infections.
“The challenge for us was going from not having any children to having a 2-year-old running around.”
Now Will is a typical 6-year-old, taking swimming lessons and participating in church programs this summer. In the fall he’ll be a first-grader at Danville-Neel Elementary School.
Mayfield, a member of the Gideons and Morgan South Camp president, also serves as treasurer of his church, West End United Methodist.
A director and former treasurer of the local Cattlemen’s Association, Mayfield took 22 calves to market last week and said he has pared his herd of brood cows from 50 to 25 after two years of drought conditions.
Farms often are family affairs, so it may not be long before Mayfield will be relying on Will’s help around the 175 acres where cattle once were raised by Billy Joe James and Arthur Lee, the grandfather and great-grandfather the 6-year-old never got to meet.
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