Karen Benson
Karen Benson
The last Friday in March may have been Karen Benson’s last working day at the Mississippi State Extension Service office in Philadelphia. But don’t think she’s going anywhere. 

Benson, the Extension Service’s Neshoba County coordinator, is retiring with 32 years as a state employee. She has been part of the Extension Service since 1997, and has been in the Philadelphia office since 2004.

“I am retiring in April but in keeping with tradition, I will return as a volunteer,” Benson said. “As an extension agent, most of our career is teaching and training others about volunteering. Think about all of the things that couldn’t be accomplished if we didn’t have people give some of their time. I will still be around. I am going from one role to another.”

Benson was born in Memphis. Later, her family moved to California and that’s where she first learned about 4-H.

“I grew up Placentia California,” Benson said. “My dad was hardware salesman and he was transferred to the Los Angeles area.

“My mother was a homemaker and I lived down the street from a horse stable. I spent time grooming and walking the horses. The stable had the 4H clovers and for most of my life, I thought 4H was four types of horses. That was my first 4H experience. It wasn’t until I got into college that I realized some of the projects and other opportunities that youth can have in 4H.”

Benson’s family moved back to Memphis. She finished college and met her husband, Rick. He worked in the soft drink business at the time. They would live in Arkansas and Georgia. Later, they moved their family to Kosciusko.

Benson took a job in the schools in 1987.

“I got involved with outdoor classrooms and gardening projects with youth,” said Benson. “We saw our test scores improve. I also got to know my county extension service agent and my soil conservation agent. We wrote some grants.”

When the extension agent position came open in Kosciusko, Benson applied and was hired. Later, a position in the Philadelphia area came open. Rick had finished Bible College and was preaching in Union so it worked out that Karen got the position and they moved to Union.

Benson said she has enjoyed working with people in the different programs, including the home makers and the Master gardeners and many more. She also enjoys working with the Community Volunteer recognition program.

She said she would be back this year to volunteer during the Fair.

“It is such a busy time for the Extension end of it. There is not a lot of free time during the Fair. We stay really busy,” Benson said. “You have the livestock show and the exhibit hall, during that week. And actually starting three weeks prior, it stays busy. You have people coming into our office to get their exhibitor number during the weeks before.  And the week after the Fair, you stay busy with reports and finalizing everything.”

Benson won’t be slowing down much.

“I have been involved in a research project with some of our specialists on campus,” said Benson. “I am completing my PhD in Human Development and Family Studies.

“My research is with Foster Parents. I have several weeks of writing left to do and my dissertation.  That’s No. 1 on my bucket list.”

Afterwards, she plans to work with training for Foster Parents who need 10 hours of training each year.