A day in the life and a life of dedication
By Lacey Rae Sport
The red barn in the background is weathered, its tin roof discolored. A late summer sun is outlining the barn and its surrounding trees as the breeze ruffles through the branches.
His jeans are worn but his light blue and green striped shirt is pressed to perfection. He places his sunglasses on his head to reveal bright eyes, set in tan skin, slightly crinkled from sunny days and countless smiles.
Hearing his voice, the cows shift towards the fence. Every morning and every afternoon, Mahlon Richburg makes the rounds to feed his cattle.
The 63-year-old leaps onto a nearby trailer where cotton seeds are piled as high as Richburg is tall. With one effortless swoop he fills a bucket. He walks through the gate to feed the cows, leaving it open behind him.
As the seed echoes in the metal trough, the cows eagerly push their way up to it. Standing comfortably in their midst, he casually reaches over to pat a heifer’s back. She has a shiny black coat like the rest, except for one pink bald spot about the size of a man’s hand.
When she was a calf, Richburg explains, she was caught in a green briar bush that scraped and scarred her back.
He had to nurse the calf back to health. For weeks he picked her up in the pasture, carried her to her mother, and helped her milk. Although he claims no partiality toward any one of his cattle, this yearling is alive only because of Richburg’s care and dedication.
Not only is he dedicated to his cattle, but, for decades, he was dedicated to his students. Richburg, or “Burg” as they called him, taught Agriscience Education at Auburn High School before retiring in 2013.
He talks about his former students like most people talk about their grandchildren, with detailed descriptions and an air of pride.
Ethan Stanley, a former student, says Richburg was the most memorable teacher he ever had.
“Burg had a way of making his students want to work hard at what they do,” Stanley says. “[Hard work] is a virtue that is very prevalent in agriculture and definitely was so in his classroom. He made you want to figure out how to do things right.”
Another former student, Tiffany Godfrey, says, “Burg is still to this day my biggest inspiration. He encouraged me to be the best I could be.”
She remembers how Richburg went to Hardee’s for a $1.72 cinnamon raisin biscuit and coffee every morning. He still continues that tradition. Occasionally, he sees former students and remembers each one.
Driving through another pasture, he points out different cows. They do not have names, only numbers. Nevertheless, Richburg can spot one 100 yards away and immediately recognize its number, as well as its mother’s number and calf’s number.
Richburg’s voice is gentle. His words, dripping in wisdom, come straight from experience. Although retired, he is still teaching.
Before starting his career as a teacher, he earned his degree in agricultural education at Auburn University. Richburg moved to Auburn in 1969 to attend the university after graduating from Luverne High School and never left the area.
While sitting in a freshman English class one day, he met his wife, Mary. According to Richburg, he was trying to watch workers fill in the horseshoe in the stadium through the window, but there was a girl in the way. “And, as Paul Harvey says, ‘You know the rest of the story.’”
They were married in 1972.
Mary was an elementary teacher for 17 years before becoming a counselor in Auburn public schools for 23 years. She retired in 2013 as well.
“I said, ‘Well, you know I’ll do this four or five years then do something else,’” Richburg says about his teaching career. “Forty years later we retired from education.”
Through an open patch in the trees, the sunlight shines through his truck windows as he enters the third pasture.
“Bingo,” Richburg says.
There is a newborn standing under its mother, only a few hours old. Of course he knew the mother’s number before he walked up to her. Holding the fuzzy, black calf between his legs he quickly tagged its left ear.
Surprised by the piercing it bucked and bellowed. Richburg held on and talked to him until he calmed down, then let him go back to his mother’s side.
Exiting the fields, he locks the metal gate behind him. He drives back to the barn, a darker red now that the sun is setting. Tomorrow morning after breakfast at Hardee’s Richburg will start his routine again.
As Paul Harvey says, “You know the rest of the story.”