For John Emin, the past is ever present, but the future matters most

For John Emin, the past is ever present, but the future matters most

One More Thing

At 85, John Emin is excited about the future.

“I’ve always felt the best is yet to come,” he says.

Perhaps his positive attitude stems from his family’s roots. Known in town for his long involvement with historic preservation and restoration, he is also proud of his identity as a descendant of a long line of Smithfield citizens. He was born on family property that is now the site of Bryant University.

Growing up, part of his youth was spent living in a building on Farnum Pike known as “The Old Yellow Tavern.” He watched his father repair and restore the historic structure. Later the family moved to where he lives today.

“There has been a John Emin on this road since 1894,” he says of his residence on John Mowry Road, and he can rattle off the names of ancestors who helped establish the early farms and businesses in town as matter of factly as someone listing the founding fathers.

Yet, there is none of the brahmin in his manner. He simply is comfortable being who he is.

“One of the most important things we have is our name,” he observes. “We are given it and we have to honor it.”

Lots of people in Smithfield will recognize his name. John was president of the Historical Society of Smithfield during most of the time the Smith-Appleby House was being restored, and he has been instrumental in the formation and work of the Smithfield Preservation Society, which is restoring the Smithfield Exchange Bank in Greenville.

He also served 18 years on the Town Council, including a stint as president from 1984 to 1988.

“I got along with everybody on the council,” he comments. “We were all friends no matter the party, but that doesn’t exist today. I enjoyed being on the council. It was fun.”

“I think I’m well respected. People might say I’m a politician. I’m not a politician. I believe in a smile and a handshake. There’s no problem people can’t solve if they will sit down and talk.”

As he recounts experiences from his eight and a half decades, he occasionally stops as if in wonderment at the turns his life has taken and the sometimes improbable developments that he feels were the product of luck as much as calculation.

“I’m a firm believer in fate,” he declares, citing his decision to study at the University of Rhode Island as an example.

“I got into URI. I’m not sure how,” he says with a laugh, confessing that at first his sociable side won out over his studious inclinations. However, responding to a recurring influence in his development, he was drawn to agricultural education.

“I had worked on Ray Brayton’s dairy farm as a kid, and I picked apples for Glenn Rawlins at Homestead Orchards. Farms were kind of in my blood,” he mentions, noting that the idea of teaching vocational agriculture was appealing.

His first job, however, was in a different field. It was with Heath Consultants, surveying gas lines in Michigan and Wisconsin. He also spent a summer as a United States Forest Service firefighter in Oak Ridge, Oregon.

“I lived the part when I was out there,’ he declares, describing some western garb and firefighting gear that helped him cut a dramatic figure. He was drawn to the work and was considering going to “smoke jumper school,” but it wasn’t to be.

There were two jobs teaching vocational agriculture advertised in Rhode Island. He applied for and was hired by the new Ponaganset Regional High School on July 1, 1960.

He takes pride in noting that he was the very first teacher hired there. The school was yet to open, he explains.

It was the beginning of a 29-year stint. He still cites the commitment and enthusiasm of the FFA (originally called the Future Farmers of America, now just FFA) club his department fostered.

“We took 42 students and four adults to Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania in 1965,” he states. “It was the only group trip the school committee approved that year.”

He also cites a later excursion to Canada, pointing out that the students raised their own money to pay for the trips by conducting fund-raising events such as paper drives.

“Teaching was fun,” he declares. He confides that he tried to relate to his students as a source of information and knowledge, but not as a font of authority.

“If I was wrong, I tried to admit it, shake hands, and move on from there. I gave respect, but I also demanded it.”

Later the school hired him back as a part-time teacher in the program and he taught for 10 more years after he had retired.

John and his late wife,≠ Joan, who died in August 2018, had five children, Cheryl, April, John, Gerald, and Seth.

Always industrious, John had developed a brisk business raising Christmas trees and other crops on his property during his years in education.

Having adopted the name Seven Cedars Farm, John, in conjunction with Seth and Seth’s daughters, Joycelyn and Marina, are expanding the focus of the business.

They have hosted farmers markets and spring, fall, and summer festivals, Easter egg hunts, haunted hayrides at Halloween time, and Christmas events.

“We are thinking of building a pavilion and a wedding chapel. We have already hosted one wedding. We’d like to host barbecues. We want to make Seven Cedars a destination. Things are working out wonderfully,” he says smiling.

(Contact me at smithpublarry@gmail.com)

Bottom Lines

Does anyone know where the name of Smithfield likely originated? First one to answer at the e-mail above will get a shout out here.