Dirt stains on dungarees from a freshly mowed field.
Deeply-etched callused hands.
The evidence of a farming life is not easily erased.
Raybon Anderson, founder of Bulloch Fertilizer Company, Anderson’s General Store and president of Raybon Anderson Farms, Inc., said there are unseen markings, too.
“Being raised on a farm gets in your blood,” Anderson said. “You just can’t get it out of your blood.”
At least for him, that’s proven true.
Anderson was raised on a farm in Nevils and graduated from Southeast Bulloch High School in 1956.
“I’ve always had to work; I worked on the farm as a kid,” Anderson said.
After high school, Anderson worked for Union Bag Corporation for six months, just to try something outside of the farm, but knew he’d eventually get back to agriculture.
A job came open in Bulloch County with the United States Department of Agriculture and Anderson said he thought, “That’s my niche, right there.”
He said his intentions were to “work hard and impress those folks and move up in the organization.”
Anderson did just that, meeting many people all over the state, as well as working with farmers all across the county and surrounding areas.
But his passion for the job also revealed another niche that begged to be filled.
“I saw a need for one organization that could help the farmer with all of his agricultural needs, fertilizer, ag chemicals – any services and products that a farmer needed, all in one location. Horse supplies – serving the farmer covers a lot of things.”
With the seed planted in his head for a business that could meet those needs, Anderson was encouraged by his wife Janelle, but met slight opposition from his grandfather when he shared the idea.
“He asked me, ‘Son, you’re working for the federal government, right? They’re paying you? You better stay there.’”
Opening Bulloch Fertilizer
When Anderson decided to take the risk and launch Bulloch Fertilizer in 1963, his grandfather’s advice changed to: “Be honest. Be sincere. Always serve your customer with a smile. Always do what you tell them you’re going to do.”
Anderson took that advice to heart and garnered loyal customers who became like family over the 55 years of operation.
“I never looked back,” Anderson said of his decision to open the business. “I’ve enjoyed every day. Some of our clients have been with us since the very first month we were in business.”
Anderson said one of those clients just stepped back from farming because of his health, but often told him, “You’ve got to be good to me – I’ve been here as long as you have.”
When Anderson first opened the doors of Bulloch Fertilizer, it was just a couple hundred yards away from where the office stands now on West Main Street. Bulloch Fertilizer served all of a farmer’s agricultural needs, as Anderson envisioned and then learned from discussions with and questions from farmers about applying fertilizers and ag chemicals when they came into his USDA office.
“I’d worked with all these farmers in the community every day with my ag job, so they knew me. It was an easy transition in that respect.”
In 1993, Anderson built Bulloch Fertilizer’s new office on its current site. And 11 years ago, he opened Anderson’s General Store, first as a smaller operation near the office on West Main, and then as a larger store on Highway 80 East, past the Statesboro Mall.
“The good Lord has blessed me in this business,” he said. “Blessed us. I use ‘we’ and ‘us’ because nobody can do anything by themselves.
“It’s ‘we’ because we have excellent employees. The key is to work hard and hire the best people and be good to them.”
Clients and employees both remain loyal and like family over the years.
Many clients and employees have not changed, and neither has the passion to provide for the farmer over the years. However the face of the business changed slightly when the business added products and services to support the turf line of business, when Anderson’s son Mike, introduced that line. With that line of services, Bulloch Fertilizer added the City of Statesboro as clients, Mill Creek Recreation Department, and several other golf courses and business municipalities from Charleston, South Carolina all the way to Daytona, Florida.
Anderson and his bride-to-be Janelle Deal met at the Statesboro Recreation Department in 1958. Her two brothers and Anderson were participating in the same sport and introductions followed. The two became engaged in 1959. Deal was completing school at Statesboro High and Anderson worked with the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service branch of the USDA.
When Deal finished high school, the two married just 11 days later, June 10, 1960. Janelle then began working for Goldkist Peanut and Farm Bureau Insurance Company, while Raybon worked with the USDA, served time with the National Guard and also farmed.
Hard work was not a new concept to the newlyweds, and when Anderson decided to open Bulloch Fertilizer, the hard work continued. Their first child, Angie, was born in October 1962, and the business opened the doors in February 1963.
“We both worked hard,” Janelle Anderson said. “At first, it was just the two of us with one man to answer the phone.”
Long before cell phones were even a concept, Anderson had a phone installed in their home with the business number so that she could answer questions while being at home with Angie.
Mike, the Anderson’s second child, was born in 1964.
“We worked long, steady hours,” Janelle Anderson said. “Raybon was always willing to listen to people and to help them any way he could. He loved people and wanted to help the community.”
As if he didn’t have enough jobs, Raybon Anderson also worked as a federal crop adjustor in the late afternoons and early evenings. Janelle said, “I would often bundle up Angie and ride with him to check crops after farmers quit working for the day, just so we could spend time together as a family.”
Happy customers, friends
The hard work paid off, most certainly, and patrons agree wholeheartedly. Mr. W.D. Johnson, farming since 1947 and a client of Bulloch Fertilizer since it opened, said, “I would highly recommend Raybon Anderson to anyone. If he tells you something, you can depend on it.
“He has been a real friend to me. He helped me when I needed him, and I guess I helped him over the years. To my knowledge, we’ve never had a disagreement. You’ve got to work together.”
Johnson jokingly made reference to the amount of business that has transpired between the two with these words: “The only reason I don’t like working with Raybon Anderson is that he sends me a bill every month! When someone sends you a high fertilizer bill, you want to get mad. But, you gotta fertilize the field!”
In seriousness, he said, “I like having friends like Raybon Anderson.”
Anderson’s longtime pastor, Elder Randy Waters, of Statesboro Primitive Baptist Church, spoke of Anderson’s character, as well.
“When I think of Raybon Anderson, I think of a man who’s always put God in the center of everything he’s always done. Family, friends, business. He is a Christian 24/7. He is genuine, a man of integrity, and a leader with a servant’s heart.
“Raybon is a problem-solver. Some might just run away from something controversial, but he does it compassionately, not bitterly. He makes all of us want to do better.
“He is humble, but firm. Lets you know where he stands, but not in an arrogant way. He demands respect, but doesn’t ask for it. He looks for ways to help others.”
A civil servant
Somehow, during all this hard work, Anderson found time to pursue another interest: politics.
Anderson said that on occasion, he would hear gossip about elected officials or customers would talk about happenings in the community, and just as a matter of conversation, Anderson would agree or chime in with his opinions.
“And one day,” Anderson said, “(My son) Mike said to me, ‘Either you quit agreeing with them or get elected and do something about it.’”
Anderson took those words to heart and has served in various elected and appointed roles and capacities over the years, including: Board of County Commissioners as chairman, Development Authority of Bulloch County, Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Agricultural Exposition Authority, State Transportation Board, Georgia Department of Transportation, Bulloch County Hospital Foundation, University of Georgia Extension Advisory Council, Bulloch Academy Board of Trustees, First Banking Company of Southeast Georgia, First Bulloch Bank and Trust, Georgia Plant Food Educational Society, Georgia Agribusiness Council, Agri-Trust of Georgia Board of Trustees.
Anderson has also won a host of awards over the years, including, 2016 Ag Partner of the Year sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce; 2011 Georgia Forestry Stewardship Award; 2011 Bulloch County Citizen of the Year sponsored by the Rotary Club; 2008 Statesboro Herald Humanitarian of the Year; 2013 Deen Day Smith Service to Mankind Lifetime Achievement Award; 2002 Soil and Water Conservationist of the Year; and 1994 Bulloch County Business Leader of the Year.
Anderson calls himself semi-retired, but said, “I hope I don’t ever completely retire.” He boasts of his children and says that his son, Mike, now president and general manager of Bulloch Fertilizer, “Does a super job of running the business.”
Mike is married to the former Vicki Marsh, and together they have four boys: Raybon and John Marsh, students at Georgia Southern, and Lawson and Olen, students at Bulloch Academy.
Daughter Angie is married to Stan Lee, veterinarian and owner of Westside Veterinary Hospital. They are the parents of Andy, who is married to Dani, and both are veterinarians; Millie, who teaches at Mill Creek Elementary School, and Kittie, who is a graduate student at Georgia Southern.
Mike Anderson said the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of his dad is Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is more desirable than riches; to be esteemed is better than silver and gold.”
He continued by saying, “Dad always taught us to be honest in our dealings with people, and we saw him do just that. A good name is built by being honest and doing what you tell people you will do.”
Angie Anderson Lee said of her father, “Dad was always very supportive of us growing up. He worked long hours building his business. But he never let it come before his family.
“Mike and I were active in sports and other school activities, and we always knew that both our parents would be there to support us on and off the field. He built his business working hard Monday through Saturday, but on Sundays we went to church as a family.
“I feel that he had his priorities in order and made me realize how important it was to keep those same values when we started our family over 30 years ago.”
Anderson reminisced about days gone by and said, “I’ve enjoyed my life and my career. Growing up farming. My work with agriculture. My business. My family most importantly.
“I was raised to believe that you serve the Old Master first, family next, then business. As long as you serve the Ole Master first and family next, then everything will fall into place.”
With farming in his blood from a very young age and a few permanent dirt stains on his dungarees, Anderson has lived just the life he wanted, with everything falling into near-perfect rows in a community he loves dearly.