Highland Bath VCE Agent Rodney Leech Retires – Part 1

The Highland County agricultural community faces a huge hole come February 1st, with the retirement of long time Virginia Cooperative Extension agent Rodney Leech. A career of 31 years can’t be summarized in one story, so in Part 1, we’ll learn about how Rodney came to Highland, and what retirement holds.

“Well, I was born and raised in Lexington, Rockbridge County – went to public schools in Rockbridge, Lexington High School, and then off to Ferrum College and graduated with an associate degree in Agriculture. And moved on to Virginia Tech, where I got my B.S. in Ag-Education in 1982. Continued to look for a job, and was able to get a job in Highland County as the vocational education teacher in the public schools here in Highland High School, which I continued for three years, and enjoyed that tremendously.

“But had an opportunity to move across town, for retiring Austin Shepherd, as the county agent, and he kind of groomed me a little bit into that position, and I was able to receive that position in 1985, and started in late July – and my first week was going to 4-H camp, which was an eye-opening experience. I continued to do a good deal of 4-H and agricultural work in those years, as well as some basic ag programming for the producers. In 1992, they decided to combine Bath and Highland counties, and I became the county agent for both Bath and Highland counties. At that point, I quit going to 4-H camp, and started really focusing on agriculture for our producers in both counties.”

So why retire now?

“It’s been a good experience, an enjoyable experience. I really like working with producers and helping folks wherever I can to solve problems and adopt new technologies. But, it’s time for a change – I’m not getting any younger, and I’ve got a fairly substantial farm built up in Mill Gap now that isnot getting the attention that it needs to get, because I’m having to do a lot of work with my main job – the paying job. And, you know, it’s kind of tough being a flashlight farmer and doing what you need to do. So, I think the time is right – the opportunity came about as there is a little bit of a shortfall in monies, particularly in Extension, and they have offered an early out to agents, and this certainly helped provide an added boost for me to move on down the road.”

And how do you plan to keep busy with all this free time on your hands?

“Well, I think certainly I’m going to continue to farm here in Highland county, and get some projects done that I have put off for many a year, and repair some fence that’s been neglected – and started in January as the president of the Mill Gap Ruritan Club – I’ve kind of put them off for several years. So I’ll be doing some volunteer work, and putting some emphasis back into my civic clubs, and the church. I’d like to do some travelling and maybe get back into a little bit of hunting and fishing if the time permits. But they tell me, a lot of times you retire, and you don’t know where the time goes. So we’ll just play it by ear for a while, and see where it goes. And who knows – farming like it is, I may have to go back and get another job to keep farming.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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