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50-year employee has no plans to leave MSU
MISSISSIPPI STATE – When Nancy Bearden accepted a job at the Winston County Extension office in 1960, she never realized she would be a part of the Mississippi State University family for the next 50 years.
Bearden has the distinction of being the university’s longest-tenured employee. She will celebrate the anniversary in August, but she was honored Feb. 26 by throwing out the first pitch at the MSU versus Southeastern Louisiana baseball game. The event was part of MSU’s 132nd birthday celebration.
“When I started, I probably thought that I had a good job for a time, but then it became a way of life,” Bearden said. “Of course money is at least part of why everybody works because we all like to eat, but it wasn’t long until everybody I worked with became just like family. It’s just hard to think of leaving.”
When Bearden began as a secretary, the Extension office was housed in the Winston County Courthouse. In 1978, the office moved to its own building, and Bearden moved with it. Office equipment back then looked a lot different than it does today, and many tasks took hours to complete.
“I had a manual typewriter and an addressograph,” Bearden said.
The addressograph was a piece of equipment that would print a mailing address on an envelope using individual metal plates stamped with each person’s information. Preparing a regular mailing was tedious. When she used the manual typewriter, Bearden said a typing mistake often meant she would have to retype the entire page. But that was before computers arrived in the workplace.
“At first, I was afraid. I did not want to use computers,” Bearden said. “Now I love it. I can’t do just anything on a computer, but it is so nice to be able to make a mistake typing and go back and correct it on the screen. Now we can print mailing labels in just a few minutes where it used to take hours.”
There were frequent homemaker clubs and community clubs that required her attention when Bearden first began working in Winston County. The annual, week-long county fair was a major production, but flower shows, dress revues and 4-H contests all demanded her time.
As secretary and then office associate, Bearden is often the public’s first contact for services from the Extension Service. Common questions still revolve around food, whether people are asking how to prepare or store it, or if it is safe to eat.
“They’ll call and ask us how to can something or how to cook it, and we’ll get out our MSU Extension Service recommendations to give them an answer,” Bearden said. “Others will call and tell us how old a canned item is or how long it has been in the refrigerator and ask if they can still eat it.”
While many of the questions haven’t changed through the years, the people answering them have. Bearden went to work for home economist Mary P. Young in 1960. Later, she worked for home economists Margaret Holman and Glenda Gregory and county agents Roger Crowder and Frank Ainsworth. The Extension Service then switched to area agents and county directors, and she now works with Mike Skipper.
Skipper, the current Winston County Extension director, has worked with Bearden for 20 years, and called her a dedicated team player who loves everyone and treats all equally.
“She is the most incredible lady I have ever met in my life. She is like a second mom to me,” Skipper said. “Her dedication to the clientele is outstanding and untouchable. She comes in early to work every day and uses very little of her personal leave time. It doesn’t matter what activity we’re doing, she is there and involved.”
Skipper said the Winston County Extension office is a vital part of the community, and Bearden is an active help in this role.
“When I first came here, we had more employees than we have now, but we’re as busy today as we were 20 years ago,” Skipper said. “Nancy helps with all the phone calls, clientele services, outreach and educational programs, and community service activities that we do.”
Bearden, 71, lives in the Wess Chapel community outside Louisville, where she has lived all her life. She has two daughters, Marsha Partridge and Pam Reel, two granddaughters and three great-grandsons. She was married for 49 years to James Bearden, who died in 2004.
Bearden said she has no plans to leave the job that she enjoys and her second family at the Winston County Extension Service. Despite all the changes she has experienced in her 50 years on the job in Winston County, Bearden said she likes it the way it is now.
“Most of the things that we have done have been such a big improvement,” she said. “I can’t go back and think of anything that I wish was back like it was before.”