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-H’ers. 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 an 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 those visits. People looked forward to seeing him because they knew he was there to help in any way 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 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.
A closer look at Lonnie Mason
Education: graduated from Purdue University in 1969; received master’s degree in 1979
Major professor: Hobe Jones, Purdue Animal Sciences, helped shape Mason’s views early in life
Career: started in Switzerland County and served as 4-H Extension educator in both Switzerland and Jefferson counties for several years; then served as ag and 4-H Extension educator in Ohio County until 1983, when he returned to Jefferson County Extension
Other activities: worked with the Indiana State Fair swine show for the past several decades, and through this has become known statewide and has met people from all parts of the state
Awards: presented the prestigious Hovde Award by Purdue College of Agriculture Dean Jay Akridge at the Indiana Farm Bureau Convention a few years ago; received the honor of having the Jefferson County agriculture building named the Lonnie Mason Agriculture Building
Notable: lives in historic Madison, but still visits his father on the farm in Dearborn County regularly
Check out the slideshow below to learn more about Mason and his career.