July 8, 2009 Edition

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May enjoyed time with Extension

Martha May, staff chair for the Lawrence County Extension Service, opens a gift from her co-workers at a recent luncheon celebrating her retirement. May retired from the Extension service effective June 30.
Gretchen Hunt

Martha May's work with the University of Arkansas Extension Service began in 1978 in Booneville and ended June 30 when she retired as staff chair of the Lawrence County office.

May's emphasis area was home economics, which became family and consumer science. She said when she first started with Extension, microwaves were just coming out.

"I remember holding demonstrations on how to use them," she said. "Of course, then we were trying to actually cook in them, not just warm things up. There was a lady who was afraid of the food."

She said she recalls another lady reassuring her that the food was safe, just like when they started cooking on gas instead of wood.

May stayed at Booneville for approximately a year and a half, then transferred to Lonoke County, where she served for six and a half years.

While there she met her husband, Mark, who is a native of Lawrence County.

"I met Mark there near the end of my stay," May said. "I quit work because Mark transferred with his job."

Two moves and two years later, the agent in Newport retired and Martha went to work for the Jackson County Extension Office. During her time off, she went back to school and earned her certification to teach elementary school, but she never taught.

While in Newport, May chaired a group that worked for three years to raise the money to restore the depot. The restoration cost close to $1 million, and the group raised approximately $300,000 receiving additional funds though grants.

After 10 years at Newport, she transferred to Jonesboro, where she worked for eight years.

Her training to teach came in handy as she helped implement the "Talking with TJ" program in Craighead County, an anti-bullying program that focused on how to get along with others.

"I like the youth side of it best," May said. "I think it's the most important work we do. I also think it's the hardest."

She has worked with 4-H Clubs and taught sixth graders in Craighead County through a Safe School Grant. She said the concept was to teach leisure activities to give kids something to do and help them stay out of trouble.

"For three years, we took 700-plus sixth grade students to the 4-H Center at Ferndale," she said. "We never had any issues. With that many kids you might expect problems, but we had none."

Mary Jane Callahan, 4-H program assistant for Lawrence County, said May's encouragement helped her to try new things in her 4-H work that she might not have done otherwise.

"My comfort zone has really grown," Callahan said. "I think I will be better able to serve the youth of Lawrence County because of her leadership."

May's love for the 4-H program is apparent, according to Callahan.

"Everyone who came in contact with her knew that 4-H was probably the area she loved most, even though consumer economics was her primary focus of responsibility," she said. "I wouldn't be surprised to see her coming back for some 4-H volunteer work in Lawrence County because she will miss it more than she realizes."

In her early years with Extension, May said she did a lot of work with money management education, which she really enjoyed.

"Early on I was in people's homes all the time," she said. "There used to be more one-on-one stuff, now there are more group activities."

Through the years, May said she has been impressed with the Extension Homemakers and the work they do.

"I don't know that the general public realizes the impact that they have," May said. "They do so much community service work."

She listed local examples including volunteering at Shepherd Care, making quilts for The Children's Shelter and working with the libraries and schools.

"There's a lot of work that these ladies do that people don't think about," she said.

May said she is glad she was able to spend the last three and a half years of her career in Lawrence County.

"My husband thought it was neat because it's his home county, and we have a lot of connections because of that," she said. "I like a smaller community and like the atmosphere here, and the staff have been really great to work with."

Her co-workers feel the same about her.

"It has been a privilege to work with her for the past three years," Callahan said. "I am proud to call her my friend, as well as my staff chair."

May was honored by her co-workers with a barbecue luncheon for employees in the building on June 25, as well as an impromptu drop-in reception that afternoon.

May added that she enjoyed the camaraderie within the Extension office and among the other offices in the building.

"It reminds me of the early part of my career," she said. "I've enjoyed being here."

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