William I. Ethridge Jr.

WILLIAM I. ETHRIDGE JR.’S love of farming began at age 9, when his family moved from the city to a farm southwest of Bessemer, Alabama. His father had a few cows, fostering his interest in dairy cattle.

In 1941, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor prompted the high school graduate to enlist in the U.S. Navy, where he served the majority of his time as a radio operator stationed in Brazil. Following his military service, he attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute on the GI Bill, majoring in agriculture science. He graduated in 1948 and started Ethridge Dairy Farm in Jefferson County that same year, using money he had saved working at a Pullman-Standard railroad-car manufacturing plant with his father and two brothers and milking cows at his father’s farm.

Throughout his life, Ethridge was an avid advocate for Alabama agriculture, especially the dairy industry, and held many leadership roles. He was Jefferson County Farmers Federation president for 38 years, from 1961 to 1999, during which time the organization grew from 3,378 members to 12,125.

He also served on the Alabama Farmers Federation’s State Board of Directors and was one of the leaders in the formation of Associated Milk Producers, an organization that helped dairy farmers get better prices for their milk.

An innovator, Ethridge traveled to Chicago for training in artificial insemination in cattle and became the first producer in his county to implement the technology in dairy cattle. He went on to breed cows for Alabama dairy farms.

A man known for his sense of humor, Ethridge was often invited to speak at agricultural events and to schools and other groups. His trademark joke was a tongue twister about a snake named Petey “hissing in the pit.”

In the late 1970s, he sold his dairy herd with plans to retire, but he couldn’t quit being a farmer that easily, so he bought and raised beef cattle for close to 20 years. After retiring from the cattle business, he continued to produce hay on his 135-acre farm.

He and his wife, Coty, married in 1959 and had one daughter, Carolyn. She and her husband, Don Baker, have two daughters.

Ethridge passed away in 2009 at age 88.