(Posted April 7, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
As a child, Arlene Duffey participated in 4-H for one year, didn’t experience camp, and didn’t complete her fair project. So, as an adult, when she applied for the office associate job at Madison County OSU Extension, she knew nothing about Extension programming and services.
“I walked out the door thinking, ‘I blew that interview,” she recalls, “only to be offered the job the next day.”
That was 37 years ago. Duffey went on to become more than familiar with Madison County Extension; she became the office’s ever present, always reliable rock.
“I have had the pleasure of working with two family consumer science educators, seven agricultural agents, and eight 4-H educators,” said Duffey, who retired on March 31.
She also flew solo on several occasions when staffing changes, vacancies, and budget cuts left her as the office’s sole employee.
When asked about her years with Extension, Duffey talks more about the people with whom she worked than she does herself–praising her co-workers and 4-H participants, parents, advisors and volunteers.
“I’ve met hundreds of wonderful, caring individuals over my 37-plus years who made my job so easy and pleasant,” she said.
Among them were former 4-H educators Eleanor Ames and Roxann Sommers, who showed her the ropes early on, and 4-H club advisors Pat Gallimore, Roseann Harbage and Kevin Stockham, who have been with the program as long as she has.
“Madison County has an outstanding, caring base of 4-H volunteers and parents. I personally cannot ever remember a volunteer saying ‘no’ to help at events,” Duffey said.
From her long list of accomplishments and involvement, it is apparent that Duffey herself rarely said “no.” Considered the ultimate team player by her co-workers, Duffey pitched in wherever and whenever she could, from providing leadership to the Master Gardeners program to spearheading the creative baking contest which engages youths who would not otherwise be involved in 4-H and raises funds to make the fairgrounds more accessible.
“I also was given the liberty of writing news articles and newsletters and organizing 4-H events with a lot of help from the 4H Committee members and volunteers. Our pre-COVID rally event was one of our best,” she said.
Over the course of three-and-a-half decades, Duffey has seen generations of 4-Hers grow up.
“When my first 4-H members, counselors and Junior Fairboard members walked back into the Extension office to be 4-H volunteers and start their own clubs, I started to feel a little older,” she said. “Then, as they enrolled their own kids in 4-H and those kids are now college graduates or married and have kid of kids of their own… I just have a to say that age is only a number and you are only as old as you feel!”
To bid Duffey farewell, the Extension Office created a webpage where people could post memories, photos, and messages of thanks and congratulations.
Kirk Bloir, assistant director of Ohio’s 4-H Youth Development, summed up Duffey’s career nicely, writing: “Thank you for the countless ways you’ve helped to make the best better, Arlene. You’ve been the glue that’s held the program together and the shoe that’s helped to kick it up a notch.”
Duffey has earned awards for her dedication to Extension, including the 2019 OSU Extension Support Staff Excellence Award and the 2017 Dorothy Rex Inspirational Award. She said the most memorable recognition was the 1998 Friend of 4-H Award.
Along the way, Duffey has helped to establish 4-H as a tradition in her own family. Her sons were members of the Kountry Kids 4-H Club and attended 4-H Camp. Her granddaughter, Addy, participated in Cloverbud day camps. Her grandson, Gavin, was looking forward to Cloverbud camp this year until COVID-19 led to its cancellation.
As for her retirement plans, Duffey said they include spending time with her grandchildren, traveling, volunteering, and working for Bryan Wilson’s Hudson’s Edge Catering & Events.