COLUMBIA CITY — One of the icons of the Whitley County Extension Office and the 4-H program is stepping down as of this afternoon.
Kay Walter has been the smiling face behind the counter, the secretary for the extension office, for “23 1/2 years and eight days” she said Wednesday, but she’s not counting.
Married to Steve Walter, Kay was a stay-at-home mom to their daughters Stephanie and Kathy before taking a job with L.M. Berry in Warsaw. When that business moved to Dayton, she applied for the extension office job.
“I was at L.M. Berry at 3:30 p.m. one day and the next day I moved right in (to the secretary position at the extension office),” Walter said. That was in 1987 and Kay has been there ever since.
“I tend to stay,” she said. “I don’t like new jobs.”
Walter reminisced about her career recalling her penchant for locking herself out.
“I locked myself out during the 4-H fair once,” she said. Actually twice, she remembered, but the second time she had left a key for someone and was able to get back in.
Then last year, her husband came to bring her lunch on a Sunday and she stepped out to tell him something as he was leaving and as the door closed, she knew she had done it again.
What she liked best about her job was the variety of work and the lack of repetition. She also enjoyed interacting with people.
“I met a lot of interesting people,” said Walter.
The part of her job she liked the least was telling people they had missed a deadline for 4-H.
“It’s hard, but we have deadlines for a reason,” she said. “Life has deadlines.”
Those who have worked with Kay over the years wish her nothing but the best, and say she will be missed.
“Kay is a very kind and caring person that I have worked with for 17 ½ years at the extension office,” said Janet Hindbaugh, office manager. “She is a very structured and organized person who was the backbone of the 4-H program. She will be missed by many people.”
“She helped me out a lot when I began,” said Dave Addison, 4-H Youth Development/Ag and Natural Resources. “I appreciate her hard work and dedication and will miss her.”
Val Slack, who retired just last year as Extension Educator at the Whitley County Extension Office said, “I enjoyed working with Kay. She had such a knowledge of 4-H and a passion for being fair and right. A wonderful, wonderful asset to the extension program and the 4-H program both.”
Cindy Barnett, CED, Consumer and Family Science/ 4-H Youth Development said, “We’re going to miss her. She’s been a super secretary, a wonderful team member in the office. She supports the 4-H program 100 percent, working with the leaders, kids and 4-H groups. She’s had a good career and certainly will be missed.”
Walter reciprocates the feelings.
“Whitley County has been very, very good to me,” she said, adding her thanks to everyone for their kindness.
Walter says she has lasted through seven fair board presidents and four youth educators and the biggest change during her tenure has been cell phones, computers and the spelling of names.
“Everybody is spelling names differently now,” she said making her task of typing results more difficult, especially as she is a stickler for spelling correctly. But she has become attached to the 4-Hers.
“I look through the paper and see the names. I know my kids.”
When she started, she used a mimeograph machine. “You couldn’t wear good clothes — you’d be covered with ink.”
What is the first thing Walter plans to do after work Friday? She’s going to the 4-H Fun Night at the 4-H center.
“It’s a fun time,” she said.
To her successor, Lisa Schrader, Walter says, “Take one day at a time. Whitley County has been kind to me and they will be to her, too. It’s all Lord willing.” She added, “She seems ready.”
A party in Walter’s honor is Sunday afternoon from 2 to 4 p.m. at the 4-H Center, though she doesn’t call it her retirement open house.
“It’s a 4-H party,” she said. “It’s for everyone.” She requests no gifts.
Walter plans to enjoy her retirement saying “I’m going to play hard.”
Part of this playing will be on the back of her husband’s motorcycle.
She will be wearing a helmet, she says, but would neither confirm nor deny accessorizing with leather pants or a do-rag.