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Tulsa's Sue Gray honored as Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service distinguished educator


Sue Gray, Tulsa County Extension horticulture educator, has been named the 2009 recipient of one of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service's most prestigious honors: its Distinguished Educator award.

Members of Oklahoma State University's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, county-based Extension educators work side-by-side with local residents to help them make use of the latest research-based information that will improve the quality of life for them, their families and their communities.

"Sue is very much the living embodiment of the land-grant mission, having taken the lead on numerous, much-needed programs on behalf of the people of Tulsa County and Oklahoma throughout her 24 years with OSU Cooperative Extension," said Robert E. Whitson, vice president, dean and director of the division.

Gray was the founder of the "Green Acres" program in Tulsa, which provides practical information about rural lifestyles and services; shopping for, buying and managing rural land; and selecting rural enterprises to urban residents looking at moving to rural areas and rural residents who commute to work in urban areas. The program has since been adopted by additional counties in Oklahoma and two other states, and has been featured as a story in "The Wall Street Journal."

"People are so appreciative of the insight they receive before going out and buying land in the country," said Stan Fimple, Ottawa County Extension director. "Some have even changed their minds, deciding country life really isn't for them, before investing their time, energy and money into a move."

Gray also has played a major role in helping eight farmers' markets and four community gardens in northeastern Oklahoma get started, prosper and grow. She has been involved in all aspects--planning, promotion, management and implementation--of the Horticulture Industries Show, which began in Oklahoma and has been so successful that the University of Arkansas became a partner and now hosts the show every other year.

"Sue has taught many programs, been responsible for registration, recruited speakers, arranged for equipment and other conference materials--she even served as president in 2006," Fimple said of Gray's involvement in the show, which provides two days of cutting-edge educational programs and trade shows about horticulture practices in rural and urban environments.

Fimple believes every fruit and nut association in Oklahoma, as well as those in many neighboring states, have benefited from Gray's knowledge and teaching methods.

"Sue has had a significant effect on the success of Oklahoma pecan producers through meetings and field days," he said.

Gray has served as host of more than 200 episodes of "Oklahoma Gardening," the division's nationally recognized, award-winning gardening television program, broadcast Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon on the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority.

Her research projects at the OSU Vegetable Research Station near Bixby have been used as field day tours by producers and her fellow Extension educators. She has been instrumental in the success of the Northeast Oklahoma Beekeepers Association, and started Tulsa's "Blue Thumb" water quality monitoring program, now a statewide program directed by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

Gray has long been a state leader in providing integrated pest management training for homeowners, commercial horticulturists, food service managers, veterinary practices, pet groomers, dog clubs, Master Gardeners and her fellow OSU Cooperative Extension educators.

An OSU Cooperative Extension area specialist once asked Gray, "Why have you changed jobs so many times?" When Gray reminded him that she had always worked in Tulsa County, he responded affirmatively, yet still wanted to know why she had "worn so many hats" in her career.

"Circumstances--staffing changes or funding cuts to ongoing programs--had much to do with my going from county educator to television host, to environmental monitoring guru, back to television host and finally back to being a horticultural educator serving local needs," she said. "As those changes were presented to me, they were rapidly followed with fresh ideas that helped me figure out how to better serve people."

Gray has been serving the people of Oklahoma and the region since 1983 when she joined the division as a senior agriculturist. Her job titles since then have been many: assistant field superintendent of the OSU Vegetable Research Station, Tulsa County Extension horticulturist, television host, OSU Cooperative Extension urban water quality and commercial horticulture agent and Tulsa County Extension educator for horticulture and 4-H youth development.

A Cowboy alumna who earned her bachelor's degree in horticulture from OSU in 1979, Gray cites the constant flow of changing challenges as helping to keep the "old" workplace "new."

"When something involving horticulture happens in Tulsa, or anywhere in northeastern Oklahoma for that matter, you can bet Sue Gray was involved," said James Trapp, OSU Cooperative Extension associate director. "Sue clearly has a gift for developing highly successful programs that continually respond to the changing needs of the citizens of Tulsa County."


Tulsa County's Sue Gray (center) accepts the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Distinguished Educator Award from Robert E. Whitson, Oklahoma State University vice president of agricultural programs (left), and James Trapp, OSU Cooperative Extension associate director (right). (Photo by Todd Johnson.)

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