Gate Signs: Symbols of past, present and future

The Pepper family of Boone County celebrates its heritage with a vintage Illinois Farm Bureau sign. Family members include, from left, Grayson, Daniel, Lori, Melissa and Brooks Pepper. (Photo by Daniel Pepper)

Displaying a custom gate sign designating the owner’s association with an organization was common practice for many farmers and businesses in the mid-1920s. Around that time, Illinois Farm Bureau first began offering personalized signs to its members. And while different designs have circulated throughout the organization over time, these symbols of heritage continue to be a point of pride for many generations of Illinois farming families.

For Lori Pepper, owner of Ferb Farms, it was her father LaVerne’s blue and gold Farm Bureau gate sign that has always held a special place in her heart.

Raised on a corn, soybean and hog operation, Pepper grew up helping her parents on the family farm in Boone County. She said for as long as she can remember, her father was an IFB member.

“There’s always strength in numbers, and my dad always said it was good to be in Illinois Farm Bureau because the organization gives you a voice,” she said.

Throughout her childhood, her father’s membership sign hung on the side of the family’s barn, serving as a constant reminder of the connection the family had with the larger agricultural industry. When Pepper went off to college, it was this metal emblem that she asked to accompany her.

“As a farm kid, you always want to take a piece of the farm with you,” said Pepper.

Remaining in her care as she earned her Spanish degree at Rockford College, the gate sign would continue to travel with Pepper as she navigated a career path to deLacey Family Education Center in Carpentersville, where she works as a bilingual paraprofessional. Although she lives off the family farm, she continues to rent the land and visits it often, keeping it in agricultural production as her father had.

The IFB gate sign now hangs in her garage next to two pieces of barn wood, each original to her family’s farm.

“It’s a physical representation of the farm,” said Pepper. “It makes me feel good to see my dad’s sign on the wall every day.”

Looking ahead, Pepper plans to pass on both the family land and gate sign to her son, Daniel, his wife, Melissa and grandsons, Grayson and Brooks. She hopes that if they choose not to farm, they will continue to care for these pieces of heritage, preserving them for generations to come.