April 28, 1951 — May 9, 2019
The rainy spring of 2011 broke records. But behind his stand at the Elmwood-Bidwell farmers market, stocked with apples, honey, lilacs and some spring onions, Daniel Nelson Tower was upbeat. He predicted that the rain would taper off and his newly planted fruit trees would thrive.
"Farmers always have hope," he told a Buffalo News reporter.
He stayed hopeful even after his diagnosis of advanced pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2018. Mr. Tower and his wife, Iris, spent part of the winter in their small Florida home, returning to their Youngstown farm house about a month before he died there on May 9, 11 days after his 68th birthday.
"We had many visitors in Florida, so we were never alone," said his wife.
Mr. Tower was born in Youngstown, the youngest child of Nelson H. and Sarah Schulze Tower and brother of Peter S., Ann and Kathy. His was the fifth generation of Tower family fruit farmers in Niagara County; several cousins also operate local farms.
As a youth, Mr. Tower was active in 4-H, training his dog, learning safety and conservation skills in fishing, hunting and trapping, showing livestock and even judging statewide. He remained a fresh- and saltwater fisherman and hunter of deer and turkey for the rest of his life.
Mr. Tower earned an associate degree in agronomy from SUNY Cobleskill in 1971. After graduation, he purchased the family farm on Youngstown-Wilson Road, including a farmhouse built in the 1860s, from his parents.
Over the years, Dan Tower Farm produced a variety of edibles, ranging from English walnuts to free-range eggs. Eventually, he concentrated on 35 varieties of apples, peaches, nectarines, plums, raspberries, cider in season and flowers.
On the farm's Facebook page, his family wrote, "His lifelong work on the farm allowed him a unique insight into growing vigorous, healthy, productive fruit trees and being a devoted custodian of the land he so loved."
"He was a quiet man," said his wife. "You could have a house full of people and never know when he showed up and when he left." Mr. Tower made time to attend most of his children's games and competitions, often slipping in to lend quiet support, she said.
"Everybody wished he was more of a talker," she said — but when he flashed a rare smile, it brightened the room.
From June to November, he and his family, including his nephew and farm foreman Tom Scharlau, rose early to work the farm and serve both wholesale and retail customers.
Iris Tower said they sold their produce at all the local farmers markets at one time or another, settling at the North Tonawanda, Clinton-Bailey and Elmwood-Bidwell markets. At Elmwood-Bidwell, Dan Tower Farm was one of the pioneering sellers.
Although Mr. Tower spent his life supplying produce to local restaurants, about a decade ago, his name became better known when restaurants began to credit the growers of their ingredients.
In October 2018, restaurants, markets, bakers, brewers and his fellow farmers held a benefit for Mr. Tower. The organizers lauded Mr. Tower for "supporting its surrounding communities for so long, and the time has come for the community to come together to support Dan and his wife Iris.”
"He was always thinking about farming and the weather," said his wife.
Mr. Tower was also generous in a low-key way, she said. "He helped a lot of people but he never told anyone," she said. "And sometimes he didn't even tell the people that he helped. He didn't need to have accolades."
Mr. Tower was the father of six, and enjoyed taking his children to nearby Lake Ontario on summer Sunday nights with a bar of Ivory soap for a swim bath.
He played volleyball, enjoyed hiking, his wife said. He was a reader on farming topics, and kept up on current affairs, although he never discussed politics, she said.
"He was a good man, and a quiet man," she said.
Mr. Tower was a Buffalo Bills fan, and closely followed the NFL career of his sister's son, Daryl Johnston, who played fullback for the Dallas Cowboys from 1989 to 1999.
Besides his wife, Iris (McGranor) Tower; Mr. Tower is survived by four daughters, Tawnya Radice, Amanda Tower, Christel Van Allen and Theresa Winkelsas; two sons, Christopher and Kenneth P. ; six grandchildren; and two sisters, Ann Johnston and Kathy Fenn.
A memorial service will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday in First Presbyterian Church, 100 Church St., Youngstown.