• Four people and the words, Extension Matters.

Busy Hands, Caring Heart

An elderly woman wearing an orange striped shirt stands in front of a large, multicolored, needlepoint county map of Mississippi.
Rae Clarke has been a part of MHV for over 50 years and helped sew the needlepoint map of Mississippi in the Bost Extension Center.

Longtime volunteer shares time and resources

Story by Leah Barbour • Photos by Kevin Hudson

When she came to her first Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers meeting in 1968, Rae Clarke accompanied her aunt, Versie Manning, who insisted Clarke come to the Thanksgiving party.

“It was a wonderful party—food everywhere,” Clarke laughs. “Then, Mary Welch, the home economist for Meridian, looked at me and at Auntie, and she said, ‘We need you real bad here in the homemakers’ club; we have a lot of work to do. We’re going to get you doing exciting things.’”

A rectangular piece of white fabric has a blue outline of the state of Mississippi and the words "Rae Clarke" and "Miss." The fabric is decorated with several gold pins.
Rae Clarke is a decorated member of the  Mississippi
Homemaker Volunteers.

That 1968 meeting between Clarke and Welch led to more than 50 years of service with the volunteer organization, which is overseen by the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Welch, who retired from Extension several years ago, was the family and consumer sciences agent in Lauderdale County for many years, and she worked to attract new volunteers and retain them in the club.

“Mary Welch was my rock,” Clarke emphasizes. “She got me going and kept me going until the day she retired. She would call me from the office, needing me to do this or needing me to do that, and she would keep me busy. I’m so proud of the work we did together.”

That work has made a difference for hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals in Meridian and beyond. Projects Clarke has completed over the years have included everything from taking cookies to Mississippi Welcome Centers to sewing and delivering robes for veterans. Volunteers dressed dolls for the Salvation Army to give to children in need at Christmas, and they traveled to other states to meet and learn from other homemakers. Clarke bakes bread for Love’s Kitchen and participates in the Arts and Crafts Festival. She served as the county chair for the Cancer Crusade and helped sew the needlepoint map of Mississippi that hangs in Bost Extension Center at MSU.

For Clarke, being a Mississippi Homemaker Volunteer is more about togetherness and relationships than it is about completing projects. It’s all about the people.

“I go down to the Veterans Administration on 23rd Avenue, and I’ll ask, ‘What do the veterans need now?’ And they’ll tell me different items like water or canned goods. I’ll make sure they have food, that their medicine is up-to-date, and just that they have what they need.”

Clarke credits Welch’s leadership, in part, with keeping her in the volunteer group for so many years, but she is quick to explain that, along with her aunt, her close relationship with Mitt Hitt was another reason she continued to volunteer for over five decades.

“Mitt was like my sister in Homemakers. Where she was, I went, and where I was, she went,” Clarke says. “I’ve known her all my life; we were the two go-getters. When we went to MSU for the state homemakers’ conference, we’d stay together—me, her, and Aunt Versie.”

“For me, it makes me feel so good to help somebody that needs something—make sure they have something to eat and something to wear.”

Rae Clarke

Now in a nursing home, Hitt still receives regular visits from Clarke. While seeing her longtime friend can sometimes be difficult, Clarke is determined to continue to be there for her.

“God has kept me going,” she explains. “I cannot let Him down, and I cannot let the people I know down. I just put my faith in God, and I find what I need to do. I go to Mitt, I go to the veterans, and I go to the homeless. I find someone I need to help, and I go after it—I help them.”

Clarke has held every local administrative position with the Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers in Lauderdale County, now led by Extension agent Patty Swearingen. However, now, Clarke says, it is time for others to lead the organization; now, she wants to focus on service.

“I’m so proud of so many projects,” Clarke laughs. “We went to the Governor’s Mansion and donated a beautiful lamp. I helped sew that Lauderdale County square in the bicentennial Mississippi map that hangs in Bost (Extension Center on the MSU campus). We go to the Hope Village to be with the children next week.

“This is my life: You get things done if you’ve got the spirit and willing mind to do it,” she says. “You can do anything!”

Attended Nine National Extension Homemakers Council Meetings

1978—Seattle, Washington

1979—Albuquerque, New Mexico

1980—Biloxi, Mississippi

1981—Durham, New Hampshire

1982—Columbus, Ohio

1983—Laramie, Wyoming

1985—Colorado Springs, Colorado

1986—Blacksburg, Virginia

1988—Charlotte, North Carolina

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