Bivins dedicated her life to helping others
Extension agent is retiring after 45 years
September 26, 2019
After 45 years working for Escambia County (Ala.) and more recently, as an extension agent, Carolyn Bivins is retiring.
A native of Tuskegee, Bivins graduated from Tuskegee High School and went to Tuskegee Institute (University), where she earned a bachelor's degree in home economics education.
When asked what inspired her to be a county agent, Bivins said in high school, there was a lady named Mrs. Betty Wilson, who worked with the gas company, and she would come to the high school and give demonstrations on how to operate a gas range. Bivins said she thought that looked like something fun, so she decided she could do that.
She then got her degree and moved to Atlanta.
"When I moved to Atlanta, I worked with Atlanta Gas Light Company as a home economist in business," said Bivins. "I went into homes and showed people how to use gas ranges, the gas grills, and even gas refrigerators and how to clean them and keep them up."
Bivins then got married and moved to upstate New York, where extension agents would go into homes and give demonstrations.
"I moved back down south and Mrs. Wilson was an assistant agent at that time, so I applied for a job at Auburn to be an extension agent," said Bivins. "That's when I got the job here in Escambia County. I had a choice to work in north Alabama or south Alabama, so I chose south Alabama."
Bivins has been in the same county, Escambia County, for 45 years, starting on Nov. 1, 1974. She has changed roles along the way, but was always based in Escambia County. There is an extension service in every county in the state of Alabama.
When Bivins first came to work, she was a 4-H extension agent.
"I hosted the girls 4-H club," said Bivins. "We then had partners who did the boys clubs and eventually we had the boys and girls clubs together. We went to all county schools, middle and high schools, where we hosted 4-H meetings. I was 4-H agent for 25 years and we had both together the last five years."
Bivins said she earned her master's degree in continuing education from the University of West Alabama 12 or 15 years ago and became a regional extension agent. She went from working with just Escambia County to working with seven more counties that include Baldwin, Butler, Conecuh, Clark, Monroe, Mobile and Washington counties.
"I began writing about other health issues, as well as food safety and all kinds of stuff," she said. "My columns had recipes and especially canning, putting up fruits and vegetables. "I got a lot of inspiration from the 4-H club. Agent Peggy Bracken was an inspiration. When she retired, I took over her spot."
Bivins began working with health and wellness programs, concentrating on diabetes. She started to teach people how to cook and eat healthy, writing about health and lifestyle in a weekly column published in several local newspapers.
"The Diabetes Education Empowerment Program (DEEP), where everything is geared toward chronic illnesses, encourages better diet and an active lifestyle," said Bivins.
She said she taught the Diet's Our Thing (DOT) program, where kids learn healthy eating and cooking and take it home to the family. The FIT Fest at the YMCA and the D.W. McMillan Memorial Hospital Adult program allowed Bivins to make a difference in the lives of those adults who wanted to sustain a healthier lifestyle.
"We spotlighted breast cancer, bringing awareness through The Purple Tea, an innovative program that would encourage women to get a mammogram each year," said Bivins. "The women would get to dress in purple and we would have a survivor come and talk about their journey."
Bivins' career encouraged her to eat better and exercise, which she still does and will continue to do every day after retirement.
"I got a lot of inspiration from the people," she said. "They helped me in being instrumental in improving in their way of life."
Bivins said after retirement, she plans to continue to go to the Brewton YMCA and travel, hoping some day go to Rome and see the Pope.
"I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me," said Bivins. "He has given me the strength to continue on. The people down here are great to be around, and I appreciate the people reaching out to me and welcoming me into their homes and hearts. It's going to be hard not being a public figure any more. Many people feel like they know me because of the paper. Thanks for inspiring me to be the best that I can be and to make the best better because that's the 4-H motto."
Bivins' last official day is next Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.
Sue Cooper, administrative assistant with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, worked alongside Bivins for more than 20 years. Cooper credits Bivins as one of the most dedicated and hardworking ladies she has ever known.
"Ms. Bivins believes in Alabama Extension," said Cooper. "If she didn't she would not have dedicated the past 45 years to serving this region as an extension agent. She has worked to help citizens of this region improve their quality of life through educational programs designed to benefit individuals and groups with whom she has worked. We all wish her best wishes in her retirement and know that she deserves recognition at this time as we reflect upon her years with Alabama Coopertive Extension."
A celebration in honor of Carolyn F. Bivins hosted by the Escambia County Extension Office will be at 2 p.m., Friday, September 27th, at the AG Science Center located at 175 Ag Science Dr. in Brewton.