By Hubert C. Crowell
What is the secret to a happy, fulfilled life?
First, it is no secret what God has done for us. He gave His Son so that we may have eternal life with Him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 NIV
I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior around the age of twelve. Setting on the back row with my friends, I almost ran down the aisle when the Baptist preacher gave the altar call. I am a sinner, saved by Grace, and I cannot count the many times that God has protected me from harm.
I have always enjoyed building things and the pleasure that comes from completing something. When I walk our dog, Teddy, around the yard and along the creek, I thought how nice it would be to have a bridge across the creek’s widest part at the corner of our lot. It was an impossible dream as it was almost fifty feet wide there. During the night, God let a tree fall in the very spot! I have enjoyed completing the log bridge over the past year, and now Teddy and I use the bridge on our daily walks. He even leads the way. God is so good! Try looking for all the small and large miracles God gives us each day. You may be surprised.
Speaking of my backyard. Two other trees fell in our backyard several years before when I walked Rusty, the dog we had before Teddy. It was a Sunday morning, calm and clear as I walked him across the tiny deck with a swing I had built. After Church, I looked out the back window and noticed the large tree in front of the creek deck was missing! There is another tree near my workshop that branches out about six feet up from the trunk. When the tree fell, it was heading for my workshop and would have demolished it. However, God intervened, and the two trees met, splitting the doubletree at the fork then veering into the creek! The trunk of the first tree rested on the deck next to the swing with little or no damage. I only had to cut off the portion on the deck and build a block base for it to rest on.
Second, it is no secret that God loves us and wants to bless us. He just wants us to Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 NIV
My father had a saying: “Without a dream, we have nothing. What is life but a dream and being able to put a little bit of it to work.” Hubert H. Crowell.
When my Dad left the coal mines, he took up commercial fishing and alligator hunting. He always had a love for the land.
In 1972 my Dad purchased the twenty acres of land on the south side of Lake Bonnet Road for $20,000.00. This land starts at the road as sand and then is covered with peat until it is about 20 feet deep at the back. The property came with a dragline that was used to dig up the peat that was sold locally. Dad purchased a bobcat and continued to dig and bag the peat. He enjoyed building equipment to Pulverize it and showing everyone who stopped by how fast things would grow in the soil mix he created. As the peat was removed, the ponds were filled back in with a mixture of dirt, peat, and cuttings from the tree trimmers in the area.
At age seventy-nine, he told a newspaper reporter, “It took me 20 years to dig out half this land. I’m going to spend the next 20 filling it up, then I’m going to dig it out again. I’ll be but 120 by that time.”
In 1982 Dad gave me the peat farm with the stipulation that he would continue to work the farm as long as he liked. During the next 14 years, the west pond was almost filled, and another small pond was dug on the east side and combined with the previously dug pond on that side.
Dad died in 1996, and I continued over the years to only allow limbs, stumps, and sand to replace the peat so that we or someone else could dream and dig again!
We continued to operate the peat farm and began to make a small profit over the operation’s salary and expenses. When you start making money, there is always someone who will get jealous and cause trouble. A fellow with a similar operation on the other side of town was having trouble with the county and told them to check out our operation. County inspectors had often visited the farm, and Dad would sometimes run them off if they tried to run his business. I tried to comply with all the rules the county brought up about the operation. But as time went on, the DEP, Department of Environmental Protection, was in the process of shutting down what they described as the mom-and-pop operations in the state of Florida.
It started with a certified letter on November 17, 1998, from the State of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection, stating that there may be violations in our operations at the peat farm. We were ordered to discontinue operations and appear at a meeting in Fort Myers, Florida. I scheduled time off from work and drove to Florida, a bit uneasy, to say the least. My attorney, Thomas Nunnallee, joined me, and we drove from Sebring to Fort Myers for the meeting with the DEP.
Our meeting started with a strange comment from the DEP, “Why did you bring a lawyer with you?” Later in the meeting, another comment was just as strange, “I thought that we had all you mom and pop operations shut down!” This was followed by a comment, “ I don’t see anything that you are doing wrong. It is just against the law!” We were told that there would be fines and that we may have to remove the years of fill and pay to have it hauled to a landfill. Test wells would have to be dug on each end of the property, and tests run on the wells’ water. The only thing left unsaid was jail time! Who would think that I would not need an attorney!
I had worked hard to pay off our home and get out of debt. Dad had also given me 2.5 acres of land in the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve in Collier County, Florida. He purchased it from a friend in Kentucky for hunting and fishing rights. This was a land development that went under and was restricted due to the black panthers in the area. Each year, I would get a letter from the state wanting me to donate the land to Florida, but I would continue paying the taxes and waiting. Now was the time. I offered the land to the DEP in exchange for the fine. They said that they would look into it and let me know. At one point, I even offered to give them the peat farm, but they said no, it would just be a liability, and they did not want it.
Months of negotiations went on between Tom Nunnallee and the DEP as we began to close down the operation that was now losing money. We still owed money on the new bobcat, so I offered it to my only employee if he could take over the payments. He agreed, saying he may be able to get some work using it or sell it. By the end of the year, I had to let him go. To get the permits for a Class III landfill, I would need to hire an engineering firm for $10,000 and pay for a permit, another $10,000. But I knew that they had no intention of letting me continue the operation.
The estimate for removing enough limbs to show that we have even done something would run about $6,000. To remove all visible limbs and logs that were above the ground would be about $15,000. Add to that the wells and tests, I estimated well over $20,000. I took out a home equity loan to start paying the attorney and expected test and cleanup operations.
On May 19, 1999, I received a final copy of the Consent Order to resolve violations noted in the complaint.
The primary violation was not to dispose or store solid waste in any natural or artificial water body, including groundwater.
It was agreed upon, and I was ordered within thirty days to transfer all visible yard trash from the property to a department-approved solid waste management facility.
Within ninety days, we had to install monitor wells and perform sampling to determine groundwater quality. We could use one existing well at the front of the property and drill another well at the property’s back.
I was required to pay a civil penalty of $3,900.00 for alleged violations. The DEP accepted the swampland and determined the Collier county property’s value to be $1,149.50. I would have to pay the balance of $2,750.50 to the DEP. I would also have to pay expenses to the DEP of $300.00 to investigate the donated property!
We appealed the removal of the waste material, and the order was changed to read: “All remaining yard trash left exposed on top of the disposal area shall be compacted to grade and covered with at least six (6) inches of soil.” This one change may have saved us well over one hundred thousand dollars that I did not have!
The water test results came back with one test that was above the allowed limit. I was very concerned about the test due to the orange grove across the road, and the drainage of chemicals used on the groves came across the peat farm to the lake. Having worked for a testing lab, I knew that mistakes were possible, and against the advice of everyone, I prayed about it and insisted the test be redone.
The final outcome was that all seventy of the chemicals tested fell within acceptable limits!
The total cost of closing down the Lake Bonnet Peat Farm was $26,767.50 plus two Florida swampland acres. The case was closed in May of 2000. Five years later, I placed the land up for sale. My only employee went on to become a missionary. He loved walking the property and talking with God, and I am sure he prayed for the operation as well.
Third, we cannot out-give God! When we give to others. God blesses more. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Malachi 3:10
I was more in debt than I had ever been in my life, so on January 24, 2006, just before the Florida real estate bust, I closed on the peat farm for $164,571.43. The home equity loan of $40,211.55 was paid off, and $18,000 was given to our Church. Praise the Lord!
God sometimes heals us in unexplained ways. Many years ago, we attended a small Church in Marietta, Austin Ave Church of God. Pastor Richard Russell was our pastor there, and both Kathy and I worked in the Church. It was volunteer work with the Sunday School Department. I was diagnosed with a hiatal hernia and suffered for years with pain and discomfort due to acid reflux from the stomach. The doctor described it as a weakening of the diaphragm, and the only cure was to operate. One Sunday morning, it was bothering me, so I went down for prayer and the elders’ laying on of hands. I was relieved of all discomfort at once. I told the doctor about it, and he scheduled another set of tests for me. The tests showed no change in the hernia, and they could not explain the loss of discomfort. That was more than forty years ago, and I have not had a moment of discomfort or that pushing up in my esophagus. My esophagus may have twisted to relieve the pressure, but whatever the cure, I accept it!
I have scars from diving headfirst into rocks in the Tennessee River to a mishap with a power saw requiring several stitches on my left arm. I have fallen on my head so many times that I felt that I must be top-heavy. Then there was the heart attack that left me with three stents, God healed me, and I was back working in our Church the following Sunday, as my loving daughter sang A Loving Heart. I could go on about leaving home at age sixteen, joining the Army, and spending three years in Germany, where God protected me from many other mishaps.
God also has a sense of humor. At fourteen, I attended school at Kathleen High near Lakeland, Florida, and about the same time, my wife, Kathleen, admired a boy named Clark who slept a lot in class at her school in Bradenton, Florida. My middle name is Clark, and I also slept in class. The Lord sent me to Bradenton when I left the service, where I met Kathleen, and we have been married now sixty years.
My Dad ran several coal mines throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama, and as a young boy, he would take me to the mines to help out. He told me to listen to the mine. It will warn you. As I sat inside the entrance one evening, waiting for the last coal blast of the day, I hear a slight sound above me. This may have been the first time I heard God tell me to move. I got up and moved to the other side of the passage when a large boulder fell where I had been sitting. I remember asking Dad how he would move the boulder. His reply was, “Son, it’s too big. I will just work around it!”
At sixteen, I hitchhiked across the US with God’s protection. The first night I slept in a pasture, shaved the following day in a cold stream, then my friend driving on their senior trip gave me my first ride toward the Mississippi River. Two rides later, some young men picked me up. I was a little nervous as they seem wild. God must have been protecting me because a police car pulled us over, and he questioned them, ignoring me sitting in the back seat. They did not get a ticket, and they let me out in the center of St. Lewis. I spent that night in the YMCA. Catching the bus out of town, then hitchhiking again, a man offered to take me to Alaska. Again, God protected me by admitting that I did not have the money to cross the Border. He may have been testing me to see if I had the required $200.00 to cross the Canadian Border. When he turned north, he let me out. The next ride had to be a gift from God. They were two American Indians, a Christian couple heading to Oregon, where they had farm work waiting for them along the river. I shared my $60.00 to help with the gas. And we would stop and spread out to find odd jobs for food and gas. They would read the Bible and pray each night before we went to sleep in the car. After reaching the farm and working for a few weeks gathering hay. The Young’s encouraged me to join the Army. They said that they had picked several young men and encouraged them to do the same. I caught a ride into Portland, signed up, having to lie about my age, and sent the papers home for my parents to sign. My Dad felt that it would be better to join the Army than running around the country.
I am now retired and will turn eighty in August. I count my blessings each morning, read my Bible, and pray for my list of neighbors, friends, and leaders. We have a lovely home and a cabin in the mountains with no phone or TV, A place to rest on the Coosawattee River. God is so good. Only heaven could be better.
Do you know Jesus? Have you accepted Him as your savior? He is the secret to a happy, fulfilled life!