Beloved extension agent wore many hats

She was known for taking other agents under her wing

By Kevin Wheatley Published:

Nancy Edwards never faced a task she couldn’t handle, whether she was training a new agent at the Franklin County Cooperative Extension or helping her church find art for a new gallery.

Edwards, a longtime extension agent for family and consumer sciences, died of breast cancer Wednesday. She was 72.

Edwards wore many hats throughout her life in Frankfort, which began in 1974 when she came to work at the extension office. Through the years, she’s been president of the Frankfort Rotary Club, helped start a local chapter of the Federal Association of Retired Federal Employees and spearheaded fundraising efforts for a balcony at First United Methodist Church, among others.

“She was an unrelenting worker, and she was very dedicated to the things she got involved in,” said Orman Wright, who knew Edwards through NARFE and Rotary.

Many remember Edwards during her time at the extension office, where she helped organize the Franklin County Extension Homemakers, assisted with planning the annual Farm-City Field Day, promoted the Franklin County Fair and wrote a weekly food column for The State Journal.

But she was also known for taking newly hired extension agents under her wing.

Keenan Bishop, agent for agriculture and natural resources, first worked with Edwards in 2000. He says it may take an extension agent one to three years to get truly comfortable in a new community, and Edwards shortened his learning curve considerably.

“She was the one who looked out for you and made sure you didn’t get yourself in a corner or do something silly,” Bishop said.

Edwards also proved a valuable source of advice, he said. Bishop says she showed him how to balance work and family, which for Edwards included twin children, Beth and Scott.

“She explained that a lot of times the people you’re working for, they don’t remember the great thing you did for them a week ago or a month ago or last year – they want to know what you’re doing for them today,” he said. “She said that’s definitely important because that’s the clientele you’re serving, but you’ve also got to remember that family comes first.”

Edwards also made lifelong friends at the extension office. Connee Wheeler, senior extension associate at the University of Kentucky, was a new agent in Morgan County when she met Edwards, but the two became close when Wheeler started work at UK.

They often traveled to professional conferences and vacations together, Wheeler said. They had scheduled a cruise through the Red and Mediterranean seas this year, but those plans were canceled after Edwards’ breast cancer returned. It had been in remission for about six years.

Wheeler and Edwards also watched the final spaceshuttle launch in Cape Canaveral, Fla., last year, courtesy of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Wheeler said.

Wheeler said Edwards always balanced different projects throughout her life, “something extension agents have to be adept at doing.”

“She was good at it,” Wheeler said. “I know that she would say some things are ‘A’ projects, some things are ‘B’ projects and some things are ‘C’ projects. You have to pick the priority.”

Phil Case, sports and spectrum editor at The State Journal, said Edwards wrote food columns until her retirement in 2006, and she never missed a deadline. Before leaving on vacation, she made sure there were enough columns ready for print. He may republish a Thanksgiving food column in her memory before this year’s holiday, he said.

Case emceed Edwards’ retirement reception and said the accolades she received showed her influence in all parts of the community.

“People from all walks of life came that day to say nice things about Nancy,” Case said. “Her gentle smile, caring ways and sincere interest in others will be sorely missed. I know I’ve lost a dear friend.”

Edwards was also heavily involved in First United Methodist Church. The choir at the church offered to sing at her funeral Tuesday, said Rev. Wayne Sayre, pastor of First United Methodist.

Sayre said Edwards served as a trustee on the church council and had a hand in many projects, but she never asked for publicity.

“Every church needs people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and to do the work and not necessarily for any type of publicity or recognition, but just getting the job done, and I think that’s the type of person she was,” Sayre said. “I’m not saying she didn’t accept the recognition when it came, but that was never her rationale for doing it.”

Her death was expected in recent weeks, but Edwards’ congeniality, dry sense of humor and persistence will be missed, friends say.

“I don’t want to overdo it, but she was a wonderful woman, and if she had any serious flaws or faults, I don’t know what they were,” Wright said.

Services for Edwards will be 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at First United Methodist Church with visitation 4-8 p.m. Monday at Harrod Brothers Funeral Home.

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