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Extension agent retiring after 41 years

December 30, 1997

Extension agent retiring after 41 years

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Agriculture in Franklin County has changed dramatically since William A. Reagan arrived as a young Penn State graduate to become the area's assistant extension agent in 1956.

It will change again today when Reagan carries his last cardboard box out of his Penn State Cooperative Extension office on Franklin Farm Lane, a retired man after almost 42 years of service.

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"I guess I did all that can be done," Reagan said of his position Penn State has no plans to fill in the immediate future.

A native of Nazareth, Pa., in Northampton County, Reagan said he never dreamed of becoming an extension agent and had never heard of Franklin County when he joined the Penn State program.

"I came here on a trial basis and I've been here ever since," he said.

Reagan, 66, who lives in Shippensburg, Pa., started his extension service career advising local 4-H clubs and he established a 4-H tractor safety program that is still active today.

He was promoted to associate extension agent in 1961, the same year he got his master's degree at Penn State in rural sociology and extension education.

Reagan soon became a fixture in the county's agriculture community, hosting farm tours, running seminars, and working with local farmers on everything from financial management to crop consulting and livestock work.

Though he never took an entomology course, he said he probably answered more questions about bugs from farmers than any other.

"The function of extension is education. We were to be innovative educators ... Our duties ran the gamut," Reagan said.

Franklin County was different in many ways, including agriculturally, in Reagan's early extension days.

"I think the biggest change I've seen is the drop in farm numbers," he said.

The county was once host to 300 sheep producers and a very active sheep program, Reagan said. That number has diminished to 20 today.

More than 2,500 acres of land once reserved for commercial vegetable growing in the county, particularly tomatoes produced for the former H.J. Heinz Co. in Chambersburg, is down to just hundreds of acres now.

The area's orchards aren't anything like what they used to be, Reagan said, and his prediction for the fruit industry's future is bleak.

"I see it declining to the back yard fruit stand," he said.

Dairy and pork farms are also on the decline and Franklin County is losing 4,000 acres of farm land a year, Reagan said.

He blames poor management of growth in the county as the primary reason for its struggling agriculture industry, starting with the placement of Interstate 81.

"They built I-81 right up through the heart of the valley and growth is occurring right on the best ag area," he said.

The loss of agriculture in the area worries Reagan and he's sure segments of it will disappear.

"I get a little worked up about seeing good ag land destroyed because once it's gone, it's gone," he said.

After going to work every day for more than 40 years and admittedly being the type who gets bored quickly, Reagan said retirement won't be easy for him.

"My wife has a lot of projects for me," he said.

He wants to do some traveling and boating, spend time with his three children and 11 grandchildren, and this winter he said he's going to try to learn how to ski.

"I may end up doing something else in awhile," he said.

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