To members of the older generation, “The Milkman” may conjure up a pleasant image from bygone days when citizens were just as apt to pick up their milk jugs from their front porch as from a grocery cooler. In those days, The Milkman delivered right to your door.

However, a strong argument can be made in 2020 that an accomplished but unassuming farmer from Hamilton Township in southern Jackson County has earned the title of The Milkman many times over, as the principal operator of a multi-generational, family-run local dairy farm on State Route 139 for more than six decades.

Roger Gilliland, in fact, has been Jackson County’s Milkman for the past 60 years -- and he’s still working and he’s still milking at the age of 75.

Obviously, this was a milestone worthy of celebration. Family members, led by one of his sisters, Karen McCall, conspired with Roger’s wife, Ruby, to organize and conduct a surprise celebration in his honor on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 23, at the Hamilton Christian Church on Lenhart Road, which is not far from the dairy farm. A large group of family members and friends were on hand when Roger arrived at the church’s shelter house for what he thought was a family reunion.

“We told him we were going to a family reunion,” Ruby recounted. “It really did surprise him.”

The look on Roger’s face as he emerged from his vehicle conveyed his surprise. “I didn’t know anything,” he admitted. “I thought it was a family reunion.”

Roger’s story is obviously one of endurance, commitment and dedication, but it’s also one of inspiration, courage and fortitude.

Roger was only 15 years old on the fateful day of Aug. 22, 1960, when his life would change forever. He was working with his father, Warren, on the farm when Warren suffered a serious leg injury in a tractor accident. His father survived, but he was left disabled and would never again be able to do the physical work the farm demanded each and every day.

Warren responded to adversity by taking on a new job serving the people of Jackson County in a way he still could. He was elected as the Jackson County Recorder on the Republican ticket in 1964 and remained in office until his retirement in 1988.

As the oldest son and with his father disabled, Roger found himself in a man’s shoes on Aug. 22, 1960. The hands-on and constant work and attention involved in operating a dairy farm now fell primarily on him. Milking was a major chore which previously had been reserved for his father Warren, and his grandfather, Carl.

“I got up one day when I was 15 years old, and the next thing I knew I was milking cows later in the day,” Roger reflected. “I would do whatever needed to be done,” he said in his humble, matter-of-fact way.

By necessity, young Roger would do the milking both before and after school, rising each morning as early as 4 a.m. to get the job done. With help from family and neighbors, the crops also had to be tended to. There was hay to cut and put up, corn to plant, and late-summer cut silage for winter feeding, just to mention some, but not all the jobs, that needed attention. Along with all this responsibility, he still had time to get homework done and graduate from high school in 1963.

Roger has been in the middle of an impressive history of the Gilliland Dairy Farm. The Farm dates back as far as 1834, just 18 years after Jackson County was established. Warren and his father, Carl, began selling whole milk on Oct. 1, 1945 and so the dairy life began and the organized dairy-farm operation began three years later in 1948. Roger and Co. currently ride herd over 285 acres and 40 Holstein cows.

In the early days, the milk was sold in Oak Hill, later to McClellan's Dairy in Jackson, and starting in 1960 through the present day, to the Scioto Milk Producers Association in neighboring Scioto County.

In the early days of milking the milk was placed in milk cans and cooled in a cold-water cooler until picked up and transported to market. In 1966, a new modern pipe line system was installed. The milk flows directly to a bulk tank, then is cooled and transported by semi-truck to the markets.

One thing that hasn’t changed all that much is the labor-intensive nature of operating a dairy farm on the front end of the production chain. The cows have to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year and an extra day for leap year, no matter what the weather. Milking is a twice-a-day job with work at the Gilliland farm beginning about 7:30 a.m. for the morning session and 6 p.m. in the evening. The work takes about two hours for each session. This does not cover the cleanup work and other work which needs to be done.

In providing background information for this article, punster and proud sister Karen McCall calculated that Roger has milked cows 43,800 “legen-dairy” times and judged this feat as being “udderly" remarkable.

On a relatively small family-run dairy farm, this means an unending commitment to the grind of the daily work -- there are never any “off days”. This daunting challenge for a small operator has no doubt led to the disappearance of dairy farms in Jackson County over recent decades. In fact, there are only two operating dairies in the county with the other being the Doug Jones Dairy Farm near Thurman.

“Nobody wants to be tied down,” Roger said of the challenges of operating a small dairy farm. “It’s a lot of work and a lot of expense. The younger generation just doesn’t want to try to do it.”

Along the way through his long career, Roger has earned the respect and admiration of his peers and received many related personal and professional honors.

Roger received the Ohio Century Award in October, 2008; the Ohio Sesquicentennial Farm recognition in March, 2015; the Heritage Farm recognition from Farm Credit Association in 2012; was named Outstanding Young Farmer in 1970 by the Jaycees and the Jackson Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD); Outstanding Cooperator by Jackson SWCD in 1965; and Outstanding Farmer by Jackson SWCD in 1972.

Roger is the eldest of six children, including Marilyn (Ron) White, Linda (Paul) Berridge, Donna (David-deceased) Crabtree, Karen (Richard) McCall, and Dale (Karen) Gilliland. All reside in Jackson County. The farm was handed down from their great-grandfather in the 1800s and Roger represents the 4th-generation family member to operate the farm.

And it appears the family tradition with dairy cattle will continue for years to come. Roger and Ruby’s only son, Ryan, has spent every childhood minute on the farm and yet today works alongside his dad with day-to-day operations. Ryan has been around the farm all his life and now does most of the outside work, but Roger says he still does 99 percent of the milking. Also, his son, nephews and nieces, and now the great-nieces, have shown dairy beef at the Jackson County Fair.

Over the years there have been several farm-hands that have come and gone. Today, helping with many of the operations on the farm is his son, Ryan; nephews, Andy, Aaron and Chris Berridge; great-niece, Natalie Krannitz; brother, Dale and son, Matthew Gilliland.

As for Roger, this was definitely a 60th-year anniversary party, not a retirement party. Roger tells The Telegram that for now, he plans to keep on keeping on.

“I will go as long as I can,” Roger responded to the obvious retirement question. “My shoulders and knees are wore out, but I can work. I’ve been milking for 60 year and I guess I can keep doing it.”

Even after 60 years, there is still no quit in Jackson County’s Milkman.