Published in Fall 2011 | By late August in west-central Canada, leaves are starting to turn and farmers are racing to harvest the wheat, barley and canola crops planted just three months earlier. “They say this area gets 90 frost-free days each year,” says Methodist Orphanage alumnus King Gibson. “But I’ve never seen more than 80 or 85.”
At age 74, Gibson still works daily on his 1,000-acre small-grain farm and cow/calf operation near Kinistino, Saskatchewan, population 700. He enjoys working with cattle and says that love may have started at the orphanage where, in the early 1950s, he was a teenage member of the morning milk crew.
“There were five boys working that early shift,” he says, “and we were at the farm by 2:30 each morning.” After their chores, the boys were back on campus in time for breakfast and then into bed until noon. They got up for lunch, attended school, practiced sports, ate dinner and went to study hall until lights-out at 9 p.m. “They kept us busy,” Gibson chuckles, “and I sure did learn how to work.”
One of five brothers from Lumberton, Gibson was 7 years old when his father died in 1947. His widowed mother struggled to care for the family and, by 1949, she needed to send four of her boys to live at Methodist Orphanage. King, Warren, William and Bruce all did well during their years in Raleigh, though King—the oldest of the Gibson brothers at MO—remembers clearly the pain of homesickness.
“I hid most of the time,” he says of his first few weeks on campus. Living at the Brown building, he was blessed to have Mabel “Muh” Brown as his house matron. “She really took me under her wing,” Gibson says, recalling the many hours she spent helping him adjust to his new home. The two shared a bond that continued long after Gibson left MO in 1955 to join the U.S. Navy.
Among his memories from MO, Gibson tells about campus visits by Hollywood film stars Johnny Mack Brown and Lash LaRue (Western matinee idols), as well as Patricia Neil. “I saw Lash uncap a soda bottle with a flip of his whip, plus light a wooden match the same way.” A photo of Neil in her mid-20s, helping Gibson’s baby brother Bruce eat ice cream, is still on display in the MHC headquarters in Raleigh.
Gibson began a long career in construction after he left the Navy and married his wife, Audean, in California. From there, the couple moved to North Carolina, then Arkansas (her home state), back to California and finally to Arizona, where Gibson expanded his career as a general contractor and custom home builder. After 22 years, they headed again to Arkansas so he could try his hand at farming for a few seasons. They settled in Canada in 1995.
Asked if he plans to stay in Kinistino, Gibson just laughs: “There’s always time for one more move.” He and Audean have two daughters, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He tries to visit North Carolina every other year, usually timed to coincide with an MO/MHC Alumni Association event, and he remembers fondly his 50th class reunion in 2006.
“I believe those of us raised in the orphanage had a better start in life than most people,” Gibson says. “They were the best years of my life.” — Peter MacBeth