Jim Gill stands before vintage seed storage shelves at Roswell Seed Co., Wednesday. (Noah Vernau Photo)
Jim Gill was sweeping the floors at his family’s seed business in 1958 when he was 10 years old, earning $1 every two weeks — just enough for him to run over to Ginsberg’s and purchase a 45 record. Gill spent many hours of his adolescence at the store, helping his father and two uncles, all the way up until graduating from Roswell High School in 1966. The store, he says, has always been a second home.
Half of a century later, Gill serves as president of Roswell Seed Co., the fourth generation of Gills to run the business. Gill’s great-grandfather John started the business more than 100 years ago, after running a furniture store in Hagerman in the mid-1890s. He opened what was then called Roswell Seed and Produce in 1898, a business decision that has harvested far-reaching results.
“The family history says that nice Christian people lived in Hagerman, and that Roswell was just a little bit on the rough side,” Gill said. “It went that nice people didn’t live in Roswell. But as it turned out, Roswell was where the business was.”
Roswell Seed and Produce became Roswell Seed Co. in the 1920s, when produce in the area became less abundant. John Gill passed the business on to his son, Walter Sr., who when he died in 1937 left Roswell Seed Co. in the hands of his three sons, including Gill’s father Walter Jr. The three sons ran the store for decades, through wars and many presidents, and Gill says that when people in the community talk about their long-standing experiences with Roswell Seed Co., more often than not they will share their memories of his father and uncles.
When Gill left Roswell to attend college at New Mexico State University, he was not sure if he would return to the family business. After earning his bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering, Gill worked at Three Seed Feed Yard in Hagerman for nine years. He would earn his master’s degree in business administration from Eastern New Mexico University in 1979, around the same time he decided to return to Roswell.
“I saw enough money lost in the cattle industry and decided it was time to come back to seeds,” Gill said.
Gill said his decision to return to the business was the right one, eventually marrying his wife Shirley in 1982, and together they raised daughters Jamie and Emily in Roswell.
“I guess because I grew up here and I always lived here, (staying) means a little more to me than, say, if I had been a kid who had been in a military family that moved every two to three years and really doesn’t have a place they call home,” he said. “For all the complaints, Rowell is a nice little town. Yes, you can talk about the problems we have, but it’s actually a pretty nice little town to raise kids.”
Gill said it is important that he gives back to a community that has done so much for him and his family. Over the years Gill and his wife Shirley have supported a number of area sports teams, cheerleader and dance teams, school bands, FFA and 4-H. Last week Gill and his wife spent three days at Kids, Kows & More, providing lessons on beekeeping for more than 1,000 fourth-grade students from the area.
“It’s one of those things where you know that with just a little bit of help, you can make some of the activities around here go from OK to exceptional,” Gill said. “And hopefully they will stay in school, because education is what is going to carry them through life.”
Gill said it appears he will be the last in the family to continue in the business. Emily, 22, studies sports medicine, and Jamie, 27, works in music education, and so far the two seem destined to pursue different careers.
Gill recalled how his father never retired, still at work for 50 to 60 hours a week until he died in 2006. Gill said he thinks about retirement now and again but still enjoys the job at 64 years of age.
“No one ever retires down here, you just don’t show up to work one day,” Gill laughed. “I’ve always said that if you like what you do, why not keep doing it? You have to do something.”