Dedication to Conservation Local Resident has Worked 66 Years
story by Jaime Tankersley
Bernice Cason reached 90 years young last year, and with that number came one more, 66. Cason has worked for the USDA-Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Howard Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) for well over half a century and is showing no sign of calling it quits just yet.
Born in Durant, Okla., Cason was brought to Texas by her father and mother when the depression hit hard. Martin County was where the family headed, and Cason has called it home ever since.
"My uncle had a farm outside of Stanton, we were just town kids and did not know what to do or think, but I really enjoyed living there," Cason said. Residing on that farm gave Cason an education that has helped her throughout her life, and put her on the path of conserving what the land has to offer.
"My education started on the farm, before my brother, sister, and I attended a one-room, one-teacher country school," Cason recalled. "The teacher was extremely organized, and we all received a good education."
In 1938 Cason went on to graduate from Stanton High School. Her career path led her to a few part-time jobs, and on Sept. 2, 1942 she began what would end up being over four decades of service to the Soil Conservation Service.
"It was a young agency and most people did not know how long it would be around," Cason noted. "They started me at fifty cents an hour, which came out to about four dollars a day.
"At one point, the Civil Service put us on a War Service Indefinite Appointment, and then when the war ended we had to take and pass an exam to keep our jobs."
Cason passed that exam and went on to witness many changes in a forming agency. With the Great Plains Program, the staff was increased from one to five. With this change came one of great significance, Cason was the first woman in Texas to obtain a GS-6 area clerk position. At this point and time everything was hand written and submitted to the area office to be typed, and carbon paper was used instead of copy machines.
"I remember that all the vehicles did not come with a heater, our soil scientist was one of the first to get a truck with a heater," Cason said. "The rest of us just had to hope that if we went to work out in the field on a cold day that the farmer would invite us in for a cup of coffee."
Cason has not only been part of the changes, she embraced each one as something new and exciting.
"We always had to pinch pennies, but the state office told us that we had been allotted money to paint the filing cabinets," Cason said. "We went out and got the bids. An automotive shop won the bidding and the field office chose John Deere Green and orange. I was even more excited when the state office told us we could just get new ones."
In January of 1986, Cason retired from the Soil Conservation Service at the Big Spring field office. The Howard SWCD had already asked if Cason would be willing to join their staff. After just a few weeks off, she returned to the same field office from which she had just retired.
"I was only supposed to work two years for them, but I just keep putting off leaving this time," Cason said. "With the district I have done several different tasks. I have done tree sales, booths at the local fair, seed sales, and been able to work with the local producers."
That work paid off for Cason. She has brought home two Grand Champion Howard County Fair Booth Awards and taken the booth onto the Collegiate Wildlife Symposium.
The folks that have had a chance to work with Cason have nothing but respect for her devotion to the cause. Chase Garcia, NRCS district conservationist, had the opportunity to work with Cason for a couple of years before moving to Stanton.
"All I can say is that no matter how complicated the task, Bernice was always up to the challenge," Garcia said.
"I think a large part of her longevity can be attributed to her work ethic and attitude," Garcia recalled. "In the two and a half years we worked together, her dedication served as an inspiration to me."
Garcia was not the only employee to notice the amount of passion Cason put into her work. Producers could instantly realize how important conservation is to Cason, and that it made her feel good to be actively utilized and involved in the work being put on the ground.
Cason is a pioneer employee for not only the NRCS but also the SWCD. However, beyond the agency doors, Cason has had a life filled with talent, hobbies, and the act of giving back. When she visited a county fair with her father as a young girl, Cason noticed the artwork and took and instant liking to the process. She returned home and picked up the funny pages. She thought that the cartoonist could use a little creative aid, and she began drawing each one she could get her hands on.
"I just knew it was something I could do," Cason said, "I took only a few lessons and was mostly self taught."
It paid off to keep up the hard work. In July of 1987 Cason was named the Big Spring Chamber Artist of the month, and pictures of her paintings were published in the local papers and magazines.
Along with painting, Cason has been very active in her local Genealogical Society. She has offered educational assistance to those interested in family history research. She served as the society's president and continues to write the genealogy newsletter for the group.
She continues to aid with the health care of her siblings and serves as the Sunday School Superintendant for the local First United Methodist Church.
With a full schedule she still found the time to share her story and offer a brief insight to the history of conservation.
"I suppose the one reason I am still around is that I enjoy my work and have always felt that it is not just a job," Cason said. "I have an appreciation for the land and know the importance of conservation."
One of Cason's supervisors, W.S. Goodlett, used to tell her that we (NRCS) only hire the 'cream of the crop.' Cason has worked with a lot of people, seen several come and go, and she still wants to educate people on the difference conservation can make. It is easy to say that Goodlett would note Cason as 'cream of the crop.'
Bernice Cason stands in front of the Big Spring, Texas water tower located outside of the local USDA Service center. Cason has spent over 66 years working for the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the local SWCD.
Bernice Cason displays over 60 years of service records, newspaper clippings and accomplishments.
Cason holds a photo up of her first retirement from the NRCS, she is currently employed by the Howard SWCD.
A clipping from the Jan. 16, 1969 edition of the Big Spring Herald shows Bernice Cason getting ready to move offices after a quarter of century.