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December 21, 2006

Oldest agent passes away

Sanderlin at groundbreaking
Elizabeth Poyner Sanderlin, center, breaks ground in August on the new Currituck County Extension center.

Elizabeth Poyner Sanderlin, the retired North Carolina Cooperative Extension agent for whom the auditorium of Extension’s new $6.6 million Currituck center will be named, passed away Dec. 20, 2006 at her home. She was 102.

Sanderlin, “Miss Liz” to her many friends, spent much of her working life helping her community grow from a rural, swamp-dotted backwater to a major agriculture- and tourism-supported county.

A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 23, at Moyock United Methodist Church. Burial will follow in the Moyock Cemetery. The family will receive visitors from 6-7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 22, at the church.

Memorial donations may be made to either the Currituck County Library or the Elizabeth P. Sanderlin Auditorium fundraiser by making a check payable to Currituck 4-H Foundation, c/o NCCE Currituck County, P.O. Box 10, Currituck, NC 27929.

To sign the online guest register, visit www.twifordfh.com.

In August, Cooperative Extension employees and residents joined Sanderlin and county officials at the 28,262-square-foot education and outreach center’s groundbreaking. The 500-seat Elizabeth P. Sanderlin Auditorium named in her honor and the new center will be available to the public when they open in late 2007.

Sanderlin smiled throughout the groundbreaking ceremony and stepped up to a shovel to have her photo taken with commissioners and others.

The new building, on U.S. 158 at Barco, will include four classrooms, two conference rooms, a demonstration kitchen, an Extension library and offices, which will allow Extension to concentrate many services and programs now offered by 14 full-time staffers from the county courthouse.

Landscaping will include water quality best management practice demonstration ponds and botanical gardens.

At the groundbreaking, Rodney Sawyer, Currituck Cooperative Extension director, noted that Extension’s Currituck operations began in the 1920s. He also recounted events in the life of Sanderlin, Currituck's home demonstration agent from 1951 to 1969.

“Miss Liz is an 'Extension icon,'” he said. “Her contributions to the citizens of Currituck County and North Carolina exemplify the Extension philosophy of helping people put knowledge to work to improve the quality of life.”

”During my career, her words of encouragement and support for our current efforts have fueled a desire to live up to her accomplishments,” Sawyer said. “She is like a guardian angel who looks over our programs and staff to herald the efforts and sing our praises. Miss Liz has inspired me to greater heights and gives credence to continuing the cause. She truly is a beloved citizen of Currituck.”

When Currituck County commissioners in 2004 declared Sept. 27 “Elizabeth Poyner Sanderlin Day,” speakers noted her longtime efforts to help rural women. One commissioner said he learned from her about 4-H, Extension's youth development program.

Sanderlin was born in Moyock, a village along the as-yet-unnamed Intracoastal Waterway, then edged by marsh-laced fields and woods. A 1926 Louisburg College graduate, she returned to Currituck, where she taught home economics, then worked for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration and later, the Farmers Home Administration.

She joined the then-North Carolina State College of Agriculture and Engineering’s Agricultural Extension Service (now Cooperative Extension at North Carolina State University) as a home extension agent in the 1950s and ’60s.

When David Cecelski profiled Miss Liz for The News and Observer (Raleigh) in December 2002, she recalled her childhood one-room schoolhouse, socializing with friends at the Northern & Southern railway station at Moyock when trains came in, roads so horrible that people “stayed stuck,” closing the gate against free-ranging cattle between Moyock and Snowden, and families raising what they ate (although her father owned a grocery store).

She remembered the excitement of “company coming in and church meetings.

“You never knew who was going to eat at our house because people would come from up the creek and other places to shop, and there weren't any restaurants over yonder,”
she said in the N&O story.

Such sociability served her well in her generations of Extension and other public-spirited work in the county. Sanderlin, with other county ag extension agents and the Works Progress Administration, developed the idea of farmer-supplied and operated roadside stands on U.S. 158/N.C. 168, Currituck County’s linear main thoroughfare, to snare the ever-increasing Outer Banks-bound tourist trade. For most of Miss Liz’s career, that five-lane asphalt highway was at best a narrow, yet critically important concrete strip. But as the county grew, so did its Extension programs, and Sanderlin remained a critical component of that growth.

-A. Latham

Posted by Art at December 21, 2006 01:37 PM