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Three Outstanding Extension County Agents
We have had several county agents in the past 85 years. For many years their offices were in the basement of the courthouse. This was back in the early days: their mission was to advise or help the many farmers in the county. Yup, it’s hard to believe but in the middle of the last century there were 6-10 times more farmers than we have today. We were a society of small farms, many had small dairy herds; a dozen sows, 300 laying hens. A diverse farm has diverse problems as well as opportunities. Thus, if he had a problem or just a question, he often times called or went the see the county agent.
The first of the county agents that I knew personally was Paul Bebermeyer. Paul was a gentle kind of guy. Always busy but never too busy to address your particular problem. The state also provided for home economics and gardening which was a female advisor for women and housewives. Her name, if I remember, was Mrs. Byland. It was not unusual for Mr. Bebermeyer to have a farmer or two waiting while he addressed the needs of another. The county agents had a working knowledge about dozens of farm related problems. In addition to his duties as county agent, Paul was also the boy scout leader. When Mr. Bebermeyer retired, we were all a little heartbroken but not for long, because Mr. Bebermeyer’s replacement was a tall and handsome fellow named Alex Gates.
Alex had an outstanding personality and I think some of us might have invented a problem or question as an excuse to visit with him. Keep in mind that there were 3-4 times more farmers in the thirties, forties, and fifties. Young and vibrant Alex loved to mix with people. Alex would leave us for a job closer to his home. Again, we had lost a good friend. Again, our hearts were broken and again not for long, as our next county agent would be Ed Meeks. I mean how lucky can we get?
Ed Meeks was a man with a million-dollar personality. He not only mixed well with farmers but with the entire county population. Ed was a navigator on a liberator bomber during World War II. Ed was one of these guys who had a million-dollar personality – I know I said that twice. Ed was also a charter member of the mid-morning coffee club at local restaurants. Though very soft spoken, most of us listened intently to his opinions.
When Ed retired as county agent, the Citizens Bank hired him as Agricultural Advisor for bank customers. My 8-year-old grandson really enjoyed talking with Ed. One day Ed gave him a river hickory nut, my grandson planted it and is now 20 feet tall. He named the tree Mr. Ed. But cancer is no respecter of persons and it took Ed down fast. I had the privilege of driving him to Quincy for treatment a time or two. Ed said he had never crossed the Mississippi on the Canton Ferry so we took the ferry from Meyer, IL to Canton, Missouri.
No, we do not have a local county agent anymore, probably because we have only a third as many farmers as we had last century. We can ever be thankful we had three of the best.
Contributed by Bill Lewis