In spite of the rainy weather, the light still shined bright on the years of dedicated service from Robert Ary – the UT Extension Sumner County Director.
For 42 years, he has worked with the UT Extension office - from Aug. 1, 1978 to July 31, 2020.
On Aug. 21, coworkers and friends gathered at the UT Extension office located at 658 Hartsville Pike in Gallatin to celebrate the many gifts that Ary had a hand in shaking up, unwrapping and sharing, for growing the greater good of Sumner County.
Among those present was Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown who read a proclamation, declaring Aug. 20, 2020 as Robert “Bob” Ary Day.
“He helped kids overcome fears of giving speeches in their classrooms,” said Brown, adding that he helped kids to compete in a variety of shows at different levels, as well as inspiring others to give back to their communities and help others.
“He helped the community find solutions to agriculture-related problems,” she said “He also brought growth in the Sumner County Master Gardeners program from 20 members to 100-plus as it stands now.”
A dogwood tree has been planted in honor of his work and years of service from him via the UT Extension staff and community,” Brown added.
When asked what he has enjoyed the most in serving as the UT County Agent, Ary was quick to respond.
“It’s all about helping people and offering solutions for concerns and problems they’re experiencing,” he said. “It’s about building relationships that will continue to grow and bear fruit. It’s about enriching the master gardener program; encouraging agriculture producers such as industrial hemp commerce.
“It’s about fruit and vegetable growers; seeing them start up and continue to expand and diversify and offer more and more at farmers market stands, with the opportunity for the public to buy local and (farmers to) make a living. I look forward to a new beginning, a new chapter. I’m not sure what that is just yet. I may work part-time for awhile.”
Many coworkers kept singing Ary’s praises throughout the celebration.
“We will miss him,” said Jenny Biggs, UT Extension program assistant. “He is awesome to work with, and he’s been a great mentor.”
As for Ary’s replacement, it will be Jeffrey Hester who has served as UT Extension Agent I.
“There are many things that impress me about my former county director, Bob Ary, however it was his ability to maintain leadership presence within the office and still fulfill his horticulture responsibilities at the same time,” said Hester, who lives in Pleasant View. “His intense agricultural knowledge and precise note taking showed me that no matter how long you’ve been in your career, you can still learn and grow. He is certainly left some large shoes to fill, but using the same skills he showed us, we will give it our best shot.”
Looking ahead, several thoughts and plans have arisen in Ary, with no clear decision set in place right away.
“The retirement celebration held for me will certainly be a special memory, including the proclamation by Gallatin Mayor Paige Brown,” Ary said. “The drive-thru was very creative, and it was so good to see Master Gardeners and other friends that I have missed seeing because of COVID-19.
“One accomplishment that stands out is the growth of the Master Gardener program in Sumner County during the years that I have been here. The number of active Master Gardener volunteers has grown from approximately 30 in 2005 to 123 members reporting more than 11,000 volunteer hours in 2019.”
Ary worked with the 4-H program for 27 years, and said that assisting children in overcoming their fears, learning new skills, and giving back to their communities was very rewarding.
Sumner County Mayor Anthony Holt could not make it to the celebration, but commented on Ary’s tenure.
“Bob has always been open to new ideas,” said Holt. “His leadership has transformed the UT Extension Office from being focused on primarily agricultural to one that has expanded to include a more urban environment. He has also been responsive to updating services and programs that apply to our citizens in an ever-evolving county. His leadership and personal skills will truly be missed.”
The highlight of the celebration was a drive-by parade of cars filled with friends, acquaintances, and citizens who wanted to say thanks while honoring social distancing.
The truth be told, there is no such thing as social distancing with someone like Bob Ary who clearly comes from the heart in all that truly matters.
“I really want to travel once it’s safer due to COVID,” he said. “Then I’d like to get the chance to visit with family in other parts of the country. I also enjoy gardening and landscaping, and I’d like some time to maybe pick up golf and also see the grandchildren.”
Ary and his wife, Judy, have three children, Judy, Rob and Chad, and four grandchildren, Will, Mattie, Knox and Harper.