Thirty-five years ago, Elaine Bowen had just graduated from college and taken a job in the next state over. She was going to a place she’d never lived, to work in a job that up until then she’d barely heard of.
Bowen was the newest agent in Morgan County, W.Va., for the West Virginia University Extension Service. Since then, her career has been entirely in Extension. And as she went from being an agent to a state specialist, she has examined and responded to some of the most pressing issues in the state.
When Chad Proudfoot was 10 years old, he read through the West Virginia Blue Book, the book that describes each level of government in the state in detail.
He was fascinated with the Capitol Building Commission, the body that governs the development of the Capitol grounds in Charleston. At the age of 18 in his room at Dadisman Hall, he wrote a letter to then Gov. Bob Wise asking to be appointed to the commission. The response was that he seemed too young, but they’d give it a try. Since then, he’s been protecting and explaining the state’s cultural resources, now with the WVU Extension Service.
Bowen and Proudfoot have been named the recipients of the Ethel and Gerry Heebink Award for Distinguished State Service. Bowen is honored for her extended service and Proudfoot for his beginning service.
They both say much the same things about their jobs. They like the people they work with, the agents throughout the state’s 55 counties. They like the people they serve. They like where they work. And they love West Virginia.
Making a healthier state
After 10 years as a county agent, Bowen worked as a statewide Extension specialist focusing on at-risk families and children. She initiated a statewide school dropout prevention program, led a food and nutrition education program and later directed the Program Center for 4-H and Youth, Family and Adult Development, putting her in contact with thousands of volunteers, families and children throughout the state.
Since 2004, she’s worked in health promotion, directing outreach efforts for the Community Advisory Network at the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at WVU, a center she helped establish through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She supports statewide Women on Wellness Retreats and the Love Your Heart Talks movement to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent heart disease.
Bowen, in conjunction with a team including The Charleston Gazette, created the http://LiveWellWV.ext.wvu.edu website and helps create weekly content that informs all West Virginians about ways to improve their health.
When she first took the health promotion job, Bowen looked at health statistics for West Virginia. She wanted to find the most pressing issues and work to educate the state. She knew that heart disease was the chief killer of men and women in the state. Dental health was another top concern. And because health is determined by everyday behaviors, her programs have targeted those behaviors.
“Our classroom is the state,” Bowen said of Extension. “When people ask me what I do and say ‘oh you’re with West Virginia University; you’re teaching in the classroom.’ Well, my classroom is all the communities across West Virginia.”
During her first week in Morgan County, Bowen’s colleague took her on a tour and introduced her to people, from farmers to pharmacists. Creating relationships with those she serves has been her model to follow.
“This job is not about me and what I can do,” she said. “It’s about what are the issues and maybe I can see how I can help.”
Emily Murphy, an obesity prevention specialist for WVU Extension, said Bowen is not only a strong advocate for women’s health but for the health of all the state’s residents.
“What distinguishes Elaine from others is her unyielding willingness to help improve the health of families across West Virginia,” Murphy said.
Preserving history for all
Every weekday, and many nights and weekends, Chad Proudfoot drives from his native Grafton, the birthplace of Mother’s Day, to Jackson’s Mill in Weston, the birthplace of 4-H camping and the boyhood home of Stonewall Jackson. He likes driving through West Virginia, seeing the state and meeting the people.
Through his traveling on country roads, he experiences West Virginia, and he wants to preserve it for the future. So he does both, preserving landmarks and educating the state’s children and families about them.
Jackson’s Mill is now at the center of that for him as he serves as a 4-H cultural resource specialist.
“When I’m at Jackson’s Mill, I can’t look anywhere and not see some vital history of 4-H or Extension or the state,” he said. “I just love that sense of place that it has that draws people to it.”
It’s also peaceful, he says. And fun.
“I get to go to camp every day for work,” he said. “Who wouldn’t love that?”
One of his major projects is applying for the designation of National Historic Landmark for Jackson’s Mill, the birthplace of 4-H camping, now a national occurrence.
When he participated in the Community Design Team visit to Belington, he jokes that if he’d stayed much longer than a few days, he would have bought a house there because he loved the residents so much.
And on a history summer program for his master’s degree that visited Monroe County, he was drawn in by the people, their pride in not having one stop light in the whole county and their curious Civil War Confederate memorial that guards a pasture.
He says he’s a “greater good type person,” and it’s shown since he was a student as a founding member of the Gold and Blue Student Ambassador program and his continued service as a University Marshal during commencement and on the University Historic Preservation Committee.
During his seven years on the West Virginia Capitol Building Commission, he was elected vice-chairman and acting chairman and participated in significant projects that included the restoration of the Capitol dome, state museum renovation, Governor’s Mansion renovation and ADA accessibility improvements.
He is a trustee of the International Mother’s Day Shrine and serves on the West Virginia Memorial Day Committee and the West Virginia Historical Society, among other organizations.
“I fully intend to spend my career in Extension and either retire or die here because I just love the mission,” Proudfoot said. “I don’t think that I would ever be able to find a better mission than what we have.”
When Proudfoot was a graduate student working as an assistant parent advocate under Susan Jennings Lantz, now assistant director of Student Employment at WVU, she watched his enthusiasm and absorbed it.
When tasked with greeting Marshall University fans at a WVU football game in Morgantown as part of an athletics goodwill program, he happily welcomed them with a smile, she says.
“The interesting thing about Chad’s service work is that not only does he do it well, it is that he almost rouses the people around him to roll up their sleeves and pitch in,” she said. “After knowing Chad for a while, you find yourself judging essay contests and worrying about the Grafton Mother’s Day Shrine or considering giving a small donation to the Monongalia Historical Society.
“Currently, I am considering volunteering to spend a week at 4-H Camp this summer, simply because of Chad.”
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