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Take 5 with Maryellen Garrison

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By Brad Bowman

Basic bio

Originally born in Groesbeck, Ohio near Cincinnati.

Graduate of University of Cincinnati, 1971.  Graduated on a Sunday and started working for the extension on a Monday 42 years ago. Degree in nutrition and dietetics.

Why did you major in Nutrition and Dietetics?

I started in American History it was called American Studies as a major. The only job opportunities was like in an ambassador’s office and it sounded like nothing I would be suited for.

I didn’t want to be a history teacher. I switched to home economics, that’s what it was called back then, and switched my major into nutrition and dietetics. I really enjoyed my nutrition classes. I planned to be a registered dietician.

I thought it was so important for people to eat healthy and how it would affect their lifelong health. I thought it would be a good career to be in to help people live a healthier lifestyle.

I went to the Methodist church and we supported a place in Leslie and Bell Counties in Kentucky called Beverly— the Red Bird Mission. I went with a friend of mine down there and saw the place and they told me they were looking for an extension agent in Beverly. I went back to college and asked my advisor about it and she sent me to the Hamilton County extension office in Cincinnati. I spent several days there and I applied.

I went to Lexington to the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. They wanted to send me to Northern Kentucky or one of the urban areas because I was from Cincinnati. I said ‘No, I want to try something different,’ so I went to Leslie County and I loved it.

My father-in-law was an employee of the extension office. My secretary had just graduated from high school and I had just graduated from college. He introduced my secretary to his youngest son and me to his middle son.

I worked there two years and after we got married my husband worked for Fish and Wildlife he was working in Knox County. I was able to transfer to Knox County. We were there for 13 years. Then my husband transferred to Frankfort and I was very fortunate because Jerri Cockrell was transferred to Lexington and I came here. I’ve been here 27 years.

Describe your job for people that might not know what you do?

The extension office is a branch of the UK College of Agriculture and we are also tied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We are supposed to disseminate research-based information to the clientele of our county to improve their lifestyles.

It was actually an idea of Abraham Lincoln. He came up with the concept of colleges should not just be for the wealthy back then, only went to college and so he started what he called the ag and mechanical colleges. In Kentucky, that was the University of Kentucky.

Then a few years later they came up with the idea that not only should the colleges be for people that go to them but for people in the communities so they could receive information from the college. So they came up with the cooperative extension service.

 So it is our job to share that information. It has to be researched based information —we can’t just make things up. So we work with the 4-H youth development which is Cathy Toole, agriculture, which is Steve, and I work in home economics which they now call family and consumer sciences. It is financial management, nutrition, family development, health and the other area is community and economic development. We work with the Harvest Showcase and Holiday Bizarre.

I do Living well: a class for senior citizens. It improves range of motion and mobility, circulation and balance through movement. We do educational programming. Last year we studied diabetes. We studied a program based on fall prevention. We meet 50 times in a year. I have had a few people who were injured in a car wreck or a fall and their doctors and physical therapist

I work with the extension homemakers. We just celebrated our 75th anniversary. They decided the best way to get this research out to the communities would be through the youth. So they started with 4-H and had educational events. Then they started the extension homemaker clubs with the same idea. The extension office would provide a lesson and one person would take it back to their clubs. We still follow that design 75 years later. We train our homemaker leaders and they take it back to their clubs and share their information. It’s hard to get women to join homemakers now. Back then it was their only social outlet. At one time, the Turners Station club had 40 members. Today’s young women is working and has their children enrolled in 40 different activities so a lot of our members are senior citizens who are retired with more free time.

What do you do for fun?

I love to read. I don’t like to read educational books — I read for fun. I found a book at a yard sale. I love to go to yard sales too.  I found this book “The Little Colonel’s Chum: Mary Ware” by Annie Fellows Johnston the author who lived and wrote in Pewee Valley.

I decided it was such a shame that I lived this close to there and I hadn’t read any of her books. I read that it was a series of books from the when the colonel is a little girl till she gets married. I decided I wanted to read them in order. So I have interlibrary loaned the books and I almost done.

I like to read for fun, but I do like older books. I like entertainment novels, mystery. You learn a lot about how life was back then and see what their lifestyle was like. She also wrote “Asa Holmes” about an older man and his life back then.

I like to swim and I like to canoe. We are going on a canoeing vacation to the boundary waters in Minnesota. We like to canoe here on the Kentucky River. The boundary waters is a wilderness area so there’s no motors. It’s on the border of the U.S. and Canada and a lot of interlocking lakes. We canoe in and come back to a cabin on the edge of the wilderness.

One of your proudest moments?

I do have one and it’s kind of a strange one. William Leslie Land, he was a key mover and shaker in Henry County for years. He lived in Eminence. He was a member of the Rotary Club. I’ve never been an entrepreneur or business person. I have a lot of empathy for people like that and people like that amaze me. So William Leslie was a real estate agent and he asked me if I would consider joining his firm as a real estate agent. That sounds kind of silly, but to me I received a compliment from someone I respected so much. He thought I would be a good real estate agent and to receive that compliment from him would be one of the best compliments I would receive.

Jay Payne had received the brass button award in rotary. Jay Payne gave me the brass button award for my work with rotary. I think because I respected both men so much that it meant a lot to me.

Do you have any funny stories?

The funniest thing that happened to me as an extension agent was before Henry County. I used to go to 4-H camp and it was one of those weeks where it rained every single day. This was back in the bell bottom days and so everyone had bell bottoms touching the ground and the water just wicked up and the adults and the kids were all wet. This 4-H agent who had been employed much longer than me decided we should take the kids’ shoes to the laundry mat so they would at least have dry shoes. We had the kids bring in their shoes and tie their pair of shoes together. We took huge trash bags to the laundry mat of shoes and dried them in big commercial dryers. Never realizing when we stopped it and pulled them out we had a huge ball of shoes. All of the laces had intertwined with each other. We had to cut all of the shoelaces and we used phone wire from Bell South that the kids used as lanyards and gave that to them —about 300 shoes.