After 37.5 years with the University of Tennessee Extension, Mark Halcomb is really retiring again June 30. Mark served as an Extension Agent in Consumer Horticulture in Shelby County from 1975-1985. He came to McMinnville as an Area Nursery Specialist in January 1986 and has served Warren, Coffee, DeKalb, Franklin, Grundy and Van Buren since that time.
The economy forced UT Extension to eliminate 60 positions across the state effective June 30, 2011. Most of the positions were vacant at the time due to retirement, attrition, etc. Several early and mid-career agents were affected. Mark was lucky. He could have retired but Dr. Cross, Dean of Extension, allowed him to work another year before retiring and part time for another 11 months in a post-retirement position.
Halcomb and his wife, Ann, moved their family here from Memphis. Ann was raised on a dairy farm in Franklin County and Mark was raised on a small farm outside Tullahoma. The Halcombs have two children and three grandchildren. Mark had managed North River Nursery, an upscale retail garden center in Hixson for one year prior to beginning his Extension career in 1975.
Halcomb has shared his knowledge with nursery producers and landscapers across Tennessee and the Southeast with weekly email articles using as much research-based information as is available in the nursery industry. Halcomb has been an invited speaker around the Southeast, and has conducted countless tours to area nurseries.
Halcomb was honored by his clientele and peers when he received the Nursery Extension Award in 2004 from the American Nursery & Landscape Association. He received the Tennessee Nursery & Landscape Association Hall of Fame award in 2010, and became an honorary member of the Middle Tennessee Nursery Association in 2011.
When asked about his years of service for Extension and future plans, Mark said, “I think many have forgotten how little I knew when I arrived. We learned many things together. I appreciate all of the friendships, opportunities and dinners we ate together. Extension specialists, researchers, agents and industry leaders from several states helped me an awful lot to help the industry and made me look good in the meantime.”
Halcomb talked about some milestones he encountered during his years on the job.
“While the kids were growing, we witnessed the arrival of Japanese beetles and powdery mildew on dogwood which created the need for airblast sprayers. The number of Latino laborers greatly escalated. Mechanical digging spades became common place in multiple sizes which encouraged wider middles. Fax machines permitted buyers to price shop. Cellphones and texting replaced radios. Computers permitted improved bookkeeping and emailing plus the wonders of the Internet. And then came the little bitty fire ant,” said Halcomb.
To celebrate his retirement and show appreciation, the Warren County Extension Office staff is holding a reception for Halcomb this Friday, June 28 from 3 to 5 p.m. in the Magnolia Room of the Warren County Administrative Building at 201 Locust Street.