The Pursell Family
The Pursell family’s roots run deep in Sylacauga, Alabama. David Pursell’s great-grandfather, DeWitt Alexander Parker, was the first general manager of the family company (then known as the Sylacauga Fertilizer Company), which began in 1914. Through the leadership of David’s father, Jimmy Pursell, and his grandfather, Howard A. Parker, the company shifted its focus from serving local cotton farmers to providing high-tech fertilizers for a global market to creating FarmLinks, the world’s first and only research and demonstration golf course.
DeWitt Alexander Parker (1866-1930)
DeWitt Alexander Parker was born July 5, 1866, in Mocksville, NC. Orphaned at a young age, he was adopted into the family of U.S. Congressman Archibald Hunter Arrington Williams.
DeWitt worked as a telegrapher for the Southern Railway at Tallapoosa, Georgia and at Anniston, Alabama before relocating to Sylacauga as the station agent of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. He first met Letitia Maud Oden when she alighted from a train arriving in Sylacauga from Oxford, Alabama, where she was a student at Oxford College. They were married on October 27, 1891 at Odena, her parent’s plantation in Sylacauga.
In 1905, DeWitt went into partnership with John Brown and formed a fertilizer manufacturing company, The Sylacauga Fertilizer Company, that furnished a product in high demand throughout Sylacauga and the surrounding areas. Later, a cotton warehouse company was added, giving way to the start of the family’s agribusiness industry.
Howard Arrington Parker (1896-1964)
Howard Arrington Parker was born in Sylacauga, Alabama, on December 19, 1896. Howard grew up with a love for agriculture and the farming community. His love of farming grew into his enthusiasm for the fertilizer business.
When World War I began, Howard left college at the University of Alabama to seek officer training at Marion Military Institute. He saw active duty in France in the Muse Argonne Offensive, serving in the 51st Infantry, 6th Division from July 6, 1918 to June 12, 1919. After he was honorably discharged in July of 1919, Howard married Ola David in 1922. They had three children: Julia Glenn, Mary Christine, and Howard Arrington, Jr.
Under Howard’s management, the family’s three businesses—Sylacauga Fertilizer Company, Sylacauga Bonded Warehouse, and Parker Gin Company—continued to grow. In 1945, Howard purchased all stock in the three companies, and in 1959, the name officially changed from Sylacauga Fertilizer Company to Parker Fertilizer Company. As always, the business relied on agricultural products, especially cotton, but in the mid-1950s, the company made its first move into the lawn and garden market with a product called Sta-Green Plant Food.
It was not only the addition of Sta-Green that put the company on a different course. The addition of Jimmy Pursell, Howard’s new son-in-law, provided the key ingredient for getting the new product line off the ground.
Jimmy Pursell (1930-2020)
James “Jimmy” Taylor Pursell was born on July 3, 1930, to Howard and Eunice Pursell. Jimmy attended Talladega High School, and after graduating in 1948, he attended Auburn University, which was then called Alabama Polytechnical Institute. He graduated in 1952 with a degree in business administration but joined the aviation cadet program to become a bombardier navigator. In 1953, while stationed in Sacramento, Jimmy married Chris Parker in the chapel at Mather Field Air Force Base. He served as a bombardier instructor and considered making his career in the military, but plans changed when Chris’ father, Howard Parker, offered Jimmy a job working for Parker Fertilizer Company. Howard taught Jimmy the business and educated him thoroughly about fertilizer and agriculture. Jimmy helped market their new Sta-Green products by traveling around Alabama selling the fertilizer to garden centers, and soon expanded to hardware stores and nurseries all over the southeast. The lawn and garden portion of the company began to grow rapidly, while the agricultural business declined.
The Sta-Green trademark was federally registered in 1959, and Parker Fertilizer Company continued to increase its market share in the specialty fertilizer business while beginning to expand into other regions of the country.
One of the milestones that set them apart from their competition was the development of slow-release and controlled-release fertilizers. The company worked closely with the Tennessee Valley Authority in the introduction of high-quality, sulfur-coated urea in 1973 and eventually built its own sulfur-coated urea plant, which thrust the company into the international arena and identified them as a leader in fertilizer technology.
Over the years, Jimmy has created several operating divisions in the organization to better serve the varied needs and demands of customers. The company became Pursell Industries and split into two separate entities in the late 1990s, but their goals and mission remained the same.
Jimmy and Chris Pursell have two sons and a daughter: Taylor, Chris, and David, all of whom have had a hand in the family business.
David Pursell (1959-)
David Pursell, the third child and second son of Jimmy and Chris Pursell, was born on April 2, 1959, in Sylacauga. David’s childhood centered on school and sports and, of course, the Parker Fertilizer Company. David officially started working for the company when he was 12 years old, shoveling cottonseed in the warehouse.
After graduating from high school, David studied commercial art at Auburn University and met his wife, Ellen Shipman. Using his creative skills and commercial art training, he became the in-house advertising agency for the family’s fertilizer company. Later, David became Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Pursell Industries, and when the company split in 1997, David assumed the role as President and CEO of Pursell Technologies.
In 2001, David initiated the construction of his long-time vision to create a research and demonstration golf course, intended to improve the golf industry through its ability to serve as a living laboratory for industry leaders. On June 4, 2003, the vision came to fruition as 550 guests, including family friend, Jim Nabors, and Governor Bob Riley, celebrated the official opening of the 7,444-yard, par-72 Hurdzan-Fry designed course, FarmLinks.
David currently serves as CEO of Pursell Farms. He is also an accomplished artist and well-known for his pencil portraits of distinguished golfers.
David and Ellen Pursell have six children: Peggy Pursell Rice (1983) husband Garry Rice III, Vaughan Pursell Spanjer (1984) husband Tim Spanjer, Chrissy Pursell Adolf (1987) husband Alex Adolf, Ramsey Pursell Nuss (1988) husband Andrew Nuss and twins, Martin and Parker (1990). Parker is married to Lauren Wright Pursell. The Spanjers are involved in the business as well: Vaughan is the artist in residence and Tim is the director of marketing.