Bates to step down after 30 years

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 12, 2003

What is a county extension office?

Harriet Ramsey Bates is glad you asked.

Bates, the outgoing county agent coordinator for Dallas County, lights up when she talks about the Dallas County Extension Office. There’s a lot to talk about. Workshops, seminars, Leadership Selma, 4-H Club, field trips &045; all are subjects the county extension office can boast about.

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Bates, whose last day is Dec. 31, has a long list of accomplishments herself. She’s the past chairperson of One Selma, and was inducted into the Senior Citizens Hall of Fame last year. The walls of her office, though, are bare. The plaques are all gone, taken down in preparation of her retirement.

But she’s not retired yet.

For example, Bates teaches food preparation and everything that goes along with it. &uot;I do a lot of seminars on table manners and how to dress for success,&uot; she said.

Bates’ office has a large kitchen complete with stove, refrigerator and island. Classes take place in the kitchen, but it’s only one of several venues the county extension office has class.

According to Bates, her office’s purpose is to gather information from universities, and bring it to the people. Information is disseminated to adults through programs such as Leadership Selma and to children through organizations such as the 4-H Club.

Learning occurs both in the kitchen and the cow farm, and people learn skills from public speaking to how to dress for a job interview. &uot;We do a lot of things in the community that people don’t know we do,&uot; Bates said.

For example, in Leadership Selma, of which Bates is a graduate, people learn how to be leaders. &uot;In every town you need leaders,&uot; she said. &uot;Some leaders are born and others are made. In Leadership Selma we make leaders.&uot;

Bates was quick to give credit to the Selma-Dallas County Economic Development Authority and the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce for the program’s creation.

The 4-H Club, another program facilitated by Bates’ office, teaches children public speaking and electrical skills, in addition to providing members a number of other activities including horse clubs and gun safety.

Making the Older Years Golden, a program for senior citizens, has been around for 13 years. It teaches elders about prescription drugs.

All programs, though, return to the extension office’s main purpose, teaching people how to improve their quality of life.

Bates has lived in Selma since 1963. Her father was a contractor who built houses and churches. She had planned on only staying one year while teaching home economics at Hazen Harrel School and supervising the cafeteria. She ended up staying 40 years.

Things changed in Selma, and they changed for Bates as well. In 1974 she left her teaching position and joined the county extension office.

Bates started as a 4-H Club agent with the county extension office. Since she’s been with her office 11 people have attended Washington Focus, which includes a trip to Washington D.C. where children get a chance to see the workings of government.

Ninety-seven children received Ford Scholarships on Bates’ watch, which enable people to attend the college of their choice in most cases.

Bates’ next position with her office dealt with home management and family and consumer sciences. For the last eight years she’s been the county agent coordinator.

After 40 years, Bates said she doesn’t want a day-to-day job. &uot;I plan on traveling, enjoying life and doing some volunteer work,&uot; she said. &uot;I’ve been to every state in the nation except Alaska, but Alabama is the best because this is where I live. I’ve been to some interesting places, but I still like living here in Alabama.&uot;

The county extension office, though, won’t be far from Bates’ thoughts. &uot;When I started in 1973 we had seven agents. Now we have three. It really has changed, but I think it has changed for the better. Change is not always bad. I assure you, we’ll have a quality extension program in this county.&uot;