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Longtime ag agent Schwartz dies

February 01, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Whether sitting around kitchen tables, walking through farm fields or talking on the telephone at all hours, Don Schwartz spent the past 20 years doing all he could to help farmers in Washington County in every way he could.

On Saturday, Schwartz died after a battle with cancer. He was 53.

Many who sought out Schwartz as the Washington County agricultural extension agent through the University of Maryland's Extension Service said his death is a loss to everyone in the county, not just farmers.

For much of his tenure in Washington County, Schwartz wrote columns twice a month for The Herald-Mail newspapers on such topics as safety on the farm, raising soybeans, nutrient management to help keep the Chesapeake Bay clean, benefits of no-till farming and how to deal with weather extremes.

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"Don never left a stone unturned," said Priscilla Harsh, who is starting her sixth year as president of the Washington County Farm Bureau. "He had the academics but he never flaunted his academic achievements - he just loved people and his work."

He loved his work so much that his vehicle bore the tags, AG AGENT.

Lynn Little, Washington County extension director for the past 18 months, said she had worked with Schwartz since 1988 when she first came on board.

"Don was an integral part of our staff, and he will certainly be missed," Little said. "We valued his opinions and his views. He always had the best interest of the community at heart."

Schwartz said in a 1991 interview that he chose to attend the University of Maryland so he could come home on weekends and milk the family's cows.

From his earliest memories, Schwartz knew he wanted to be a farmer like his father before him, according to that interview. He graduated in 1973 with a degree in dairy animal science, came home and went into partnership with his father on the Carroll County farm.

Later armed with a master's degree in agronomy and crop science, Schwartz took the position with the extension service in Washington County in 1985.

"He was very dedicated to serving the agricultural community in Washington County," said Roberta Yetter, who recently retired after 17 years working as a secretary to Schwartz and others in the local extension office now on Sharpsburg Pike.

Yetter said Schwartz was well respected by all he knew and worked with over the years.

"Many times, Don would go out and sit around the kitchen table with a farmer at all hours while they talked," Yetter said.

Charles Wiles, a longtime Williamsport farmer, could attest to that.

"Don was a regular barnyard psychiatrist - he knew how to talk to farmers because he was one, too," Wiles said.

Ralph Shank, who has worked his own family farm on Wagaman Road since 1977, said Schwartz always took people's problems seriously, even if it was just keeping the neighbors happy.

"Don also had a part in starting farm record keeping and the commodity marketing club in Washington County," Shank said.

Jeff Semler, a fellow agent, said Schwartz took the time to show him around when he first started with the extension service in 1996.

"He was a mentor to me, but more importantly, he was my friend," Semler said.

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