Morgans Pass Love of 4-H to a New Generation

Bill and Debbie Morgan

In one way or another, Bill and Debbie Morgan have spent most of their lives involved in UT Extension and 4-H. In fact, that’s where the couple first met, as Agent and Assistant Agent at the Union County Extension Office. And their four kids have gone through the program, inheriting a love of rural life and rural skills from their parents.

Bill grew up in Friendsville in Blount County and attended UT Knoxville as an agriculture major. He graduated in 1970 and got an internship in the Anderson County Extension Office. A lifelong 4-Her, it wasn’t long until he realized he wanted to be an Extension Agent and help bring 4-H programs and other services to rural communities. He worked as an assistant in Campbell County, then transferred to Union County in 1975, where he worked as Extension Agent until he retired in 1997.

“Extension is just a job of helping people,” said Bill. “4-H has a lot to offer kids. Responsibility, work and leadership. I was in Campbell County at the end of coal, and it left a lot of people in poverty and displaced. 4-H kids could still participate even in very meager economic situations. Very few programs can take kids like that and head them towards college and careers.”

Debbie is from West Tennessee. She attended UT Martin and applied to be an Assistant Extension Agent in the early 1980s. At the time, Extension jobs were scarce, so she had to wait a while. Even though the Union County job was far from home, she jumped at the chance.

“Extension appealed to me because of the service and education aspect,” she said. “The whole idea of it is that you have the university system, now how do you bring that to people in rural areas?”

As co-workers, the Morgans fell in love with Union County, but that wasn’t the only love story they told. They were married in 1987 because, “we thought we spent so much time together, we may as well get married,” said Debbie with a smile. But due to conflict of interest rules, Debbie had to quit her job at the Extension.

They started a family and bought 106 acres in Sharps Chapel, where they built the farm and home where they still live. The kids are grown now, all homeschooled. Anna is a junior in chemistry and education at UT. Sarah is a successful folk musician majoring in traditional music in Kentucky. Mary is interning with the Union County UT Extension this summer and majoring in animal science at UT Martin, and Jim graduated from high school this year and started a job in heavy equipment.

Debbie said they made the decision to homeschool because of the flexibility, family togetherness and the chance for Christian discipleship it offered. And from Mary’s passion for animals to Jim’s talent in showing sheep, and even reaching to skills like photography and public speaking, 4-H helped enrich the kids’ lives.

The Morgans look back fondly on their time at UT Extension, and reflect on the ways agriculture has changed in Union County. When Bill first came to Union County, there were 16 dairies and 400 tobacco farmers. Now, there are none. Most folks today grow beef cattle or vegetables.

“The Extension now has had to carve out a place of how they can meet the needs of the farmers that are farming today,” said Debbie, pointing out Extension programs like Master Beef and the Farmers Market. “You have to remember that your neighbors in the county are taxpayers, and (Extension) wouldn’t exist without their vision and their seeing value out of Extension. The farmer next door is your boss.”

“I know when I retired, I visited County Commission for the last time, and I had been involved in some way with every County Commission member there,” said Bill. “I think it just kind of showed how Extension can involve just about everybody in the county. You don’t have to be a farmer.”

It’s also rewarding to look back on former 4-Hers who have done well as adults. The Morgans named District Attorney Jared Effler, Todd Dykes of Hallsdale Powell Utility District and Glen Liford of Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, just to name a few.

“At our 4-H achievement banquet, we used to get motivational speakers,” said Bill. “But we don’t have to do that anymore. We just get former 4-Hers.”

The Morgans said they plan to keep helping and volunteering with 4-H and Extension programs, and they’re grateful for the skills farm life and 4-H helped instill in their children.

“It’s really important to have a love and a feel for regular people, down-to-earth people, people with skills, and just a general concern for rural people, those humble people just making a living,” said Debbie.

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