Benjamin H. Amoss, 89, farmer, state senator's father

September 04, 2001|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

Bound to the land that defined his life, Benjamin Howard Amoss died Saturday of cancer in the Harford County farmhouse where he was born nearly 90 years ago.

Proclaimed a "Living Treasure" by the Harford County Council last year, he was best known as the father of longtime Maryland state Sen. William H. Amoss, who died in 1997.

But he will be remembered by family and friends as the quiet, rough-handed dairy farmer who clung to his stake through the Great Depression, war, misfortune and changing times with no greater aim than to raise enough money to send his six children to college.

"The world he knew was the farm and his family," said his son George B. Amoss of Chadds Ford, Pa. "He was the furthest thing from a gentleman farmer as he could possibly be. He could work anybody into the ground. There were four of us boys, and he could outlast us all on any given day."

Born in 1911, Mr. Amoss grew up on what was then a modest farm along Fallston Road that had been owned by his mother's uncle since the preceding century. For as long as he could remember, he had worked that land.

In the mid-1930s, he bought the property from his parents on credit for $1,800 and struggled through the years of the Depression to keep the farm afloat.

An eighth-grade graduate, he had won a farm deferral from military service during World War II and busied himself producing milk as fast as his cows could make it - and growing just enough fruit and vegetables to feed his family.

"He always said, proudly, that Mom was the brains of the operation, the one who knew how to manage money," said George Amoss. "He was the worker, the quiet kind, who just went out every day and got it all done. They really built the farm together."

Benjamin Amoss met Loretta E. Bachman while in grade school, and the couple married in 1932. By the end of those early lean years, they had six children and were on their way to owning a successful Holstein dairy operation, bargaining for bits and pieces of land to expand their holdings near Fallston to 130 acres.

Known as a meticulous husband of land and livestock, he proudly named the tidy spread - with its gleaming white house and huge red barn - "Model Farm."

He was active in the Harford County Holstein Club and was a 4-H Club leader for decades, winning the distinction of Harford County Farmer of the Year in 1983. In all, Mr. Amoss spent 40 years as a dairyman, followed by another 20 years raising Angus beef stock.

"He only just got rid of his beef cattle three years ago," said daughter Rachel A. Pieper of White Hall. "He had about a hundred head, and he was the only one who could go out there among them without their going bonkers. Beef cattle are skittish by nature, but Dad always had a way with them - animals, in general."

In his younger years, he enjoyed running his Walker foxhounds through the woods at night on horseback. But to the best of anyone's recollection, it was one of the few diversions he allowed himself.

"I think he got down to Florida once to see an old friend," his son George recalled. "But aside from that, I don't think he ever got farther than Pennsylvania. He was a Maryland farmer, through and through. It was his whole life."

Mr. Amoss served as campaign treasurer during the early days of his son's 23-year political career - during which Bill Amoss, like his father, became a champion of education. But even that foray didn't much move him, his daughter said.

"He was 100 percent behind Bill," Mrs. Pieper said. "But he didn't get all that worked up about politics. It just wasn't his thing. He didn't take vacations. He didn't have hobbies. The farm was everything to him."

Mr. Amoss was a parishioner of St. Mark's Roman Catholic Church in Fallston and served for many years on the church council. A Mass of Christian burial will be offered there at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.

His wife of 59 years died in 1991. In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by two other sons, John O. Amoss of Columbus, Ohio, and Benjamin H. Amoss II of Harrisonburg, Va.; another daughter, Jane A. Dean of Bel Air; a sister, Elizabeth M. Hiser of Conowingo; 15 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.

The family suggested contributions in Mr. Amoss' name to the Hospice of Baltimore, 4 North Ave., Suite 422, Bel Air 21014.

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