Lonnie Mason smiles as he listens to friends and colleagues compliment  his 50 years of service in Purdue Extension Service. (Courier staff photo by Connor Jacobs)
Lonnie Mason smiles as he listens to friends and colleagues compliment his 50 years of service in Purdue Extension Service. (Courier staff photo by Connor Jacobs)

The Jefferson County 4-H Fair board took a few moments Thursday to note to Lonnie Mason, the county extension director, that in 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, women were allowed membership in Future Farmers of America, and Elvis, the Beatles, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel, and Elton John were musical giants.

But, they said, the “most notable to us and our 4-H program is that it was your first 4-H fair. Thank you so much for everything you have put into the 4-H program and for all of the lives you have touched these past 50 years.”

Lonnie, as he is called by everyone, is a tough guy to keep a secret from and an even tougher guy to put in the spotlight. As someone said during Thursday’s surprise pitch-in lunch in the livestock arena, he’s quiet but he’s always there when you need him.

But, put him in the spotlight they did, along with providing an opportunity for Mason and his multitude of friends and colleagues to recall the years he has served this and other counties and fondly remember the accomplishments. Mason’s family of sisters, brothers-in-law and a brother, aunt, cousins and a nephew came to the fair to join in the special event.

With hand-made tributes, cakes and surprise gifts, the crowd recognized Mason’s 50 years of service, which has been continuously in Jefferson County since 1984.

Don Phillips of Hilliard Lyons noted that Mason has been active in the community beyond 4-H and county extension.

“Lonnie is like the ‘engine’ of your car,” he said. “He works behind the scenes where most people don’t see his efforts. He gets things done without recognition. “He is a great ‘worker bee.”

With characteristic humility and few words, Mason repeatedly thanked the crowd and the community.

“It’s been good,” he said.

‘Lonnie Mason is an extension educator’s educator’

By Tom J. Bechman

Indiana Prairie Farmer

When Fred Whitford writes the history of Purdue University Extension over the past 50 years, he could lead off the book with a picture of Lonnie Mason. Whitford, director of Purdue Pesticide Programs, has documented the history of Extension through the first several decades.

He couldn’t pick a better individual to represent Purdue Extension over the most recent five decades than Mason.

Currently Jefferson County Extension ag educator, Mason has served in the Extension system since 1969. He’s helped more than two generations of farmers and their families learn about farming, leadership, life and growing up, in general.

Mason was named the 2017 Honorary Master Farmer. The award is sponsored by Indiana Prairie Farmer and the Purdue University College of Agriculture. Mason is the first career county Extension educator to be named an Honorary Master Farmer.

Mason has spent the bulk of his career in Jefferson County. He’s worked with both farmers and 4-Hers. Currently, he’s an ag educator, but also assists with the 4-H program, especially with livestock projects.

Early in Mason’s career, many farmers in southeast Indiana raised tobacco. “That gave me the opportunity to connect with lots of farmers,” he says. “At certain times of the year, you could count on finding them in the tobacco patch or in the barn stripping tobacco.

“They would ask questions and I would find answers, but the neat part was I knew I could always find farmers to talk to. It’s when I made many of my visits.”

If he wasn’t visiting tobacco barns, he was likely making calls in dairy barns. “We also had a good number of dairies,” Mason recalls. “I knew they would be milking cows morning and evening. If I wanted to catch up with someone, I knew I could find them.”

Mason, an Extension agent and educator in every sense of the word, became a good listener through these visits. People looked forward to seeing him because they knew he was there to help in anyway he could.

“It’s different today,” Mason adds. “We’ve only got a handful of tobacco growers left, but each one grows much more than the typical grower did 20 to 30 years ago. We also only have a few dairies left in the county.”

What hasn’t changed is Mason’s dedication to Extension and his community. “I’ve stayed with it because I have a passion for Extension and agriculture,” he says. “But when I can no longer do the job like I think it should be done, I will step aside.”

Mason has been a fixture in the Indiana State Fair swine barn for decades. He’s helped the 4-H swine shows run smoothly. He will likely be at the Indiana State Fair this year, but he won’t be working with the hogs.

“I physically can’t do it like I once did, so it was time to give it up,” he says.

But if you’ve got a question related to farming or agriculture, Mason will still find an answer. Helping ag people is something he never grows tired of, he notes.

Reprinted with permission from the July 2017 Indiana Prairie Farmer.