Extension agency chief retires to heaped praise CARROLL COUNTY FARM/BUSINESS


The consummate public servant, a man willing to let others shine while he quietly worked out the details, an analytical thinker carefully solving problems.

These are the images friends and colleagues have of Walter Bay, who has retired this month after 28 years with the University of Maryland's Cooperative Extension Agency. He was honored as extension agent emeritus at a reception in his honor recently at Wilhelm Catering.

Mr. Bay, a Carroll County extension agent for 19 years, became the county agency's director when Robert Jones retired in 1984. He then became a regional director in 1990.

"It was a good day for the extension agency and for Carroll County when [Mr. Bay] came here," said Mr. Jones of the man he hired in 1965. "He was highly valued by the extension service as well as the farm families he worked with."

Raised on a northern Baltimore County dairy farm, Mr. Bay began his career in agriculture with a degree in dairy husbandry from the University of Maryland in 1958. He later earned a master's degree in extension education from the University of Maryland in 1967.

'Farm boy'

"I was a farm boy to begin with," Mr. Bay said of his decision to study agriculture. "I just felt it was something I knew a little something about. It was something I was interested in."

After spending time working for the Southern States retail stores and the company's wholesale hay ingredient service, Mr. Bay accepted a job with Carroll County's extension agency working with dairy farmers and field crops.

"I thought that working with farm families would be a rewarding type of work, that trying to be helpful would be satisfying," said Mr. Bay, now 60. "It did turn out that way. What made it so enjoyable was that I worked almost all my career in Carroll County and the people here were just great to work with.

"I was very fortunate in the colleagues I had. They were very dedicated people, very competent and just a joy to work with."

The job then grew. He often spent long nights working on financial management plans for local farmers, a program he helped develop and distribute throughout the state, Mr. Bay's colleagues said.

"He was probably the best farm management analysis agent in the state of Maryland," Mr. Jones said.

Carroll County's agricultural preservation administrator William Powel agreed, recalling the time Mr. Bay spent analyzing the dairy operations he used to manage.

Good counsel

"I remember him counseling my partner and I very thoroughly in how to arrive at a decision about whether to participate in the dairy herd reduction program," Mr. Powel said, referring to a federal program that offered farmers money to sell their animals.

Mr. Powel also said he wouldn't have his current job if it weren't for Mr. Bay.

"Back in 1985, when I read an article about Marlene Conaway being hired as the administrator of the agricultural preservation program, I told Walt I was thinking about a career change, and that would be the very kind of job I would like to have," Mr. Powel recalled. "When Marlene became the assistant planning director, he called me and said 'If you were serious about wanting that position, there's an opening.'

"Walt was one of the people I looked on to help me when I had some tough decisions in my job. He and I have been fairly close, more than an ordinary farmer calling up his extension agent," Mr. Powel said of his fraternity brother.

Both were members of Alpha Gamma Rho, the University of Maryland's agricultural fraternity, during their college years.

Carefully thinking out solutions to tough decisions is Mr. Bay's specialty, his friends and colleagues said.

During the extension agency's recent budget crisis, Mr. Bay could often find ways to cut costs without sacrificing the organization's dedication to farmers, they said.

"Everybody needs someone like Walt, who doesn't just approach things based on how they look on the surface," said David Greene, Carroll County's current extension director. "He looks at what will happen if you move in this particular direction."

That attitude showed him much about approaching problems as the current director, Mr. Greene said.

"He taught me that there are two sides to every story and that you don't want to react too quickly," he said. "You should think things through and, sometimes, put the problem aside and come back to it later to see if you still feel the same way about it.

"That's the way he approached all important decisions where there was a conflict."

Following in Mr. Bay's footsteps as director of the Carroll County extension office wasn't too difficult, Mr. Greene said.

The former director had already streamlined office communication and hired effective employees who could work without much guidance, making the transition much easier, he said.

'Bloom County'

"He and I are a lot alike," Mr. Greene said. "We are both methodical, like to follow something through and see that it is done well. I followed those things he had set up and, in some cases, may have improved on them."

The two also share a similar sense of humor, Mr. Greene said. Following the daily adventures of Opus, Bill the Cat and Milo in the now-defunct "Bloom County" comic strip became a daily ritual for the two, he said.

"One of the biggest disappointments in our career was when 'Bloom County' was discontinued," Mr. Greene deadpanned.

Farm classes

However, Mr. Greene said he is most proud of the beginning farmer classes he and Mr. Bay developed to teach urban transplants how to care for the farmettes they had recently purchased.

"They didn't know how to take care of the pastures, how to take care of the animals," Mr. Greene said. "Our classes ran the gamut of all the small-farm possibilities."

Eventually, the classes developed into more advanced classes and, finally, the current extension agency instruction on various niche-farming operations -- such as organic farming or cut flowers -- that exist in Carroll County.

The agency also plans to run the beginning, general farm classes again, Mr. Greene said.

"Ours was one of the first programs in the state," he said.

For Mr. Bay, retirement means travel, work in the garden and the completion of various projects at home, he said.

"I'm just going to be enjoying a change of pace and a little more relaxed lifestyle," Mr. Bay said. "So far, I'm enjoying it very much."

But permanently leaving the Carroll County area is not something he wants to do.

"I'm not going anywhere," said Mr. Bay, who lives in Uniontown with his wife, Mary Ellen. "I plan to live here in my retirement years and enjoy continuing to live in Carroll County. The people in this county are wonderful to work with.

"I'm sure as time goes on, I'll look very fondly on my retirement, the work that I've done and the way people here have treated me personally and professionally."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad