By Jean A. Flanagan
When you talk to Dave Workman about his career, you begin to notice a reoccurring theme. “Take what you have and make it better.”
Hardy County’s longest-serving West Virginia University Extension Agent will be retiring at the end of this year.
Workman has served as Hardy County’s extension agent for the past 37 years. He’s seen droughts and floods. He’s taught children and is now teaching their children and even grandchildren. He’s been a source of information, resources and even just a listening ear to farmers, poultry growers, backyard gardeners, from-herers and come-herers. “I’m retiring, I’m not going away,” Workman laughs.[private]
Workman grew up in Montgomery County, Md., which was home to a large number of dairy farms in the 1960s and 1970s. When he went to college at West Virginia University, he studied agriculture. “I always wanted to be a farmer,” he said.
“My family is from Whetzel County. My dad got displaced after World War II. I always said I would go back to West Virginia when I could.”
At WVU, Workman got the idea he’s like to be a veterinarian.
“My advisor, Dr. H. E. Kitter, told me vet school was very competitive and I just didn’t have the academics for it,” Workman said. “He suggested I try a career in industry or extension. I tried industry first, because it paid better.”
Workman graduated from WVU in 1979 and was recruited by Grover See and several others to go to work for Rockingham Poultry in Moorefield. He started as a supervisor on the night shift.
“I didn’t like the work, but I liked the people I met here,” he said. “There was just a difference in management styles and philosophy. So when the opportunity to interview for the extension agent’s position came along, I took it.”
Workman was interviewed Thanksgiving week in 1979 by Howard Shriver and Charles Morris. “Charlie Morris, who was to be my supervisor, came to my house and we had dinner,” Workman laughed.
“I was hired in 1979 and started in 1980.”
The Hardy County Extension office in 1980 consisted of Gloria Phares, who was the family and home economist and Gary Rapking, the agricultural agent. He had followed Bill Clark. Workman’s job was in 4-H and youth development. He hadn’t been in 4-H as a kid, but joined while in college.
For the first two or three years, things went along just fine. But in 1983, everything changed.
“Gary was called to be a minister, so I moved into the Ag position,” Workman said. “Gloria left to go back to school. Miriam (Leatherman) arrived in 1983 to take over 4H. Jane (Jopling) came in 1984 and Miriam took over the home economics and family education. For the next 30 years we worked together. We couldn’t have planned it any better.”
Workman said it is not likely it will ever happen again. People just don’t stay in the same job for 30-plus years.
“Things are different today,” he said. “It’s just demographics. People change jobs seven or eight times in their lifetimes.”
In 1983, Workman met and married Jeannie Barr. She was a counselor at 4-H camp. Their daughter Jenna was born in 1984.
Back in the early 1980s, Hardy County was an epicenter of agricultural activity.
“Hardy County has always been the center livestock production in the state,” Workman said. “We had senators and congressmen come to the area. We hosted Farm Bill Listening Sessions. Governors from other states would come to see how we did things. Hardy County won a national award from the U.S. Department of Energy for energy efficiency in agriculture.”
The pace of life was a bit different in those days, as well. When Workman went to visit farms, he had to plan where he was going to have lunch.
“You had to plan to be near Kerr’s or Crider’s Store or McCauley or the Peru Store or Rig Store so you could get a hunk of bologna to make a sandwich,” he said. “But sometimes, the farmer’s wife would put out a spread. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a meal in some of the most wonderful homes in Hardy County – all over the county.”
But in 1985, the world as people in Hardy County knew it, was shaken. The Flood of 1985 tested the community and the extension office. For months, Workman and other extension agents from around the state, worked with poultry, cattle and crop farmers to rebuild. “Just getting the rocks out of the fields so they could plow was a major undertaking,” Workman said.
“We had extension agents come from all over the state. Even Charlie Morris, who was my supervisor, came. We went door-to-door to see what people needed. People didn’t know where to start.
“I wouldn’t wish a flood on anyone, but it gave me the opportunity to get to know the community and to build some trust.”
It also gave Hardy County some national recognition, but perhaps not in the way we’d like to be recognized. The iconic photograph of Workman with representatives from various federal agencies and a cow dangling 20 feet in the air, stuck in a treetop, is forever etched into Hardy County history.
The rebuilding effort took months, and in some cases, years. While many things changed after the flood, the extension office stayed the same.
“We had 4-H Camp, the Poultry Festival and the Tri-County Fair,” Workman said. “We are the only area in the state where three counties share a fair. The founders were visionary in that respect.”
After the flood, Workman continued working with emergency services. He helped Charles “Chuck” Silliman write the grant application for the Emergency 911 System. “We had to convince civic organizations and people that we needed this to improve service,” Workman said.
He continues to work with 911 dispatch when needed, usually nights and weekends.
“I feel a sense of commitment to it,” he said. “I’ve been there since the beginning.
“It’s an honor to work with the dedicated group of volunteers who are willing to sacrifice their own time to help others.”
In addition to emergency services, Workman has served on the Hardy County Planning Commission and the Local Emergency Planning Committee. Most recently he has volunteered to serve on the Hardy County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Hardy County Committee on Aging.
He is a member of the West Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, the Hardy County Farm Bureau, the West Virginia Poultry Association and served on the West Virginia Poultry Disease Task Force. He was the Hardy County Beef Quality Assurance Coordinator and helped develop the Bovine Emergency Response Plan.
“It was such a shot in the arm to help develop a program that is so in demand by so many,” Workman said. “It combines first responder safety, public safety and animal care.”
Workman said he’s seen a lot of changes in the past 37 years.
“Our transportation system has improved tremendously. Our roads have improved. Our programs have changed. We can reach a lot more folks. I don’t need that library of books I used to use. If a farmer brings a weed and wants to know how to get rid of it, I just take a picture and send it to the University. They send back information in minutes that would’ve taken me hours to find.
“The downside is we’ve lost the human touch – the human interaction. The pace is getting faster. Our depth of knowledge is expanding faster. And the stakes are greater from a financial standpoint. There’s a lot of things we can’t do because of bio-security. We’re part of a global agriculture now.”
Workman said he feels very fortunate to have been a part of such a wonderful community for such a long time.
“There are so many wonderful families here, I can only hope I have benefitted them as much as they have me.
“There are certain types of measuring sticks that don’t have marks. When people come up and say ‘thank you’ or ‘you made a difference in my life’ or you see kids grow up in 4-H and now they’re bringing their kids. This community has so much to offer. I just hope I’ve been a friend.”[/private]