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County extension agent bids adieu to position

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072122 extension agent retires

By Jacob Spivey

There are moments in life, where everything changes. From that moment on, nothing is the same. Like everyone, I’ve got a lot of those moments, the second Melanie Watkins walked around the corner, and in my smooth debonair manner I fumbled out something to say and managed “ I like you cause your tall” , when seemingly seconds after my oldest child was born, when the nurse took us back to the room and just left me alone with a minutes old baby like I was supposed to know what to do, and some twenty-five years ago, when I was just in the fourth grade, when this gray-headed man got out of his pickup to talk to me about the show-pig I was going to raise.

While my family, of course knew Mr. Cauthen, my first memories of him interacting with me, was him driving an hour out of his way to offer me advice about raising a pig for the Trinity Valley Exposition (a pig we stuck eighth in the sale by the way), a fair and a kid that he had no reason to care about, changed my entire life, From those first moments that he got out of his truck and made his way to a show pen I knew that I wanted what he had. I wanted to be whatever he was. In the last 25 years a lot of things have changed. I eventually got to be in his class, and he and Mr. Currie changed the trajectory of my life in 1000 different ways. I remember being a sophomore, and I had done something a stupid teenager would do, and Mr. Currie chewed me up one side and down the other, telling me that it didn’t matter how smart I was or how badly I wanted to run things, a real leader was someone that people would want to follow, that’s another piece of advice that changed the way my life was going.

Eight years ago, I had another set of moments, when a county commissioner called me and asked me if I wanted to come home. After college I had managed to do what I thought I’d wanted since I was nine years old, and I’d become an Ag teacher, working a few hours north of here advising the Timpson FFA, but he knew and how right he was, that my heart was in Tyler County, even if I was doing a job I enjoyed. From that phone call, and the proceeding few months lead me to taking the job of Tyler County AgriLife Extension Agent for Texas A&M University. In the time that I have had this job, we have grown the 4H program from three county fair projects to over 60 last year, we have seen this office change to become a force for education and change in the community. When I first got here, seemingly every phone call or conversation, was about how no county agent stayed for long, or cared about the challenges Tyler County faced.

When I took this job, there were a million different challenges, my first fair board meeting, men, and women I respected and cared about, asked me if I was here to do the job, or to keep letting 4H be where you enrolled if you didn’t want to follow any rules. I spent countless nights wondering what I had gotten myself into.

In time, this has become a job I absolutely love, I have fallen deeper in love with my community and county, I have met thousands of people, and hopefully, I have helped them. I’ve had every problem in the world come thru the doors of my office, from identifying weeds and grasses, to caring for a set of orphaned armadillos, drought, floods, freezes, people who just needed an ear to listen as they talked about the transitions of life they were going thru because they’d moved, or retired, or lost someone. There have been times this job has become absolutely one of the hardest things I have ever done, and now, I am doing one of the hardest things I can imagine, I’m leaving it.

A little over a month ago, I was standing on a porch in Kennard after working a field day with some fellow county agents, and I got a phone call asking me if I knew anyone that might want to teach Ag in Warren. At that time, I was absolutely thrilled in my job with A&M, but sometimes you have those moments, and I knew that I was in one almost immediately. Every summer since 2015 I have been called and asked about going back to teaching high school. In fact, this was the second time that Warren had called me, but somehow this time I knew it was right.

While taking the job at Warren is an extraordinary joy, and a little bit of trepidation and intimidation, leaving the extension office is without a doubt full of sadness. I have grown to love agriculture, Tyler County, and her people in deeper and more meaningful ways than I could have ever imagined. I am not moving to Egypt, I will still be around, but now I will be officing just a little further south and somehow, thru divine direction, I will be sitting at a desk that was once held by the man who inspired me to fall in love with agriculture 25 years ago, Mr. Cauthen. I couldn’t have written my story this way if I’d tried, in high school I dressed up as Mr. Currie for hero day, and now I’ll be working across the room from him. Matt Swinney and I have been friends for nearly 30 years, and now we’ll go back to teaching together. I’m excited about the future.

But my heart breaks for leaving the office of Tyler County Agent. I have loved every minute of it, and I have always been so proud to serve you, my number is still the same, my love for this county is still the same, and this will certainly not be the end of my time serving you, in one way or another, I’ll always love my time here, and I’ll always love Tyler County.

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