ROCKINGHAM — County Extension Director Susan Kelly will take on more responsibility as a district director later this month, leaving what she calls the “best job of my career” for one that promises some travails.
“Nobody calls the district director with good news,” Kelly said Wednesday.
She will become the North Central District Extension Director, a peer of her former boss, South Central District Extension Director Clinton McRae. Instead of eight employees, she will be in charge of 120.
McRae hired Kelly 5½ years ago. At the time, he said, he saw her as someone with “the ability to influence change.”
Since then, he said, he has watched her work with municipalities in Richmond County on numerous projects, including the Sandhills AGInnovation Center, which she called her best accomplishment.
“I’m extremely happy for Susan and the skills she’ll bring to the district team, but sad to lose someone who is extremely dependable, self-motivated and a creative thinker in Richmond County,” McRae said. “She pushed me out of the box to think more strategically.”
Kelly served as president of the Rockingham Downtown Corporation, worked with the Ellerbe Downtown Merchants, started the Hitchcock Creek Community Garden and worked with the Richmond County Farmers’ Market.
For the past seven months, she has served as interim county Extension director in Union County, which she said gave her much-needed experience in seeing how a more metropolitan county operated.
Still, though, the best memories have come from from laughing with her staff during meetings and baking cakes for their birthdays, Kelly said. She has worked with the same staff for a long time, and its members have bonded.
“They are the best people I’ve ever worked with,” she said.
Kelly eventually will have to move from her home in Ellerbe, but she will keep her same email, she said.
Interim director for the Richmond County Extension will be Paige Burns, an Extension horticulturalist who also works closely with the AGInnovation center.
The most important things for the Extension going forward, Kelly said, is to maintain current programs while continuing to reach out to underserved areas.
“We’re always trying to expand our reach,” Kelly said. “They say county Extensions are the best-kept secret, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
Kelly put significant effort into marketing through social media, but awareness of the Extension still isn’t where it needs to be, she said.
One thing that made her job easier, she said, was the county government — rarely the source of a smooth-working partnership in other counties.
“The Extension is not always at the table in every county, but our county government fully embraced us,” Kelly said, noting a time when the county took on three new salaries following a cut in state financing. “Whoever (follows me as director) will have the best staff and the most supportive county government you can ask for.”
Kelly will hold a going-away party 3-5 p.m. Sept. 21, at Strikers’ Bowling Center in Rockingham.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]