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Karen Bell Fox elected President of AEHC.


Cleveland County Homemaker to Lead state Council

by Eva Marie Pearson - January 16, 2019

Only moments after Karen Bell Fox was installed as president of the Arkansas Extension Homemakers Council, her husband, George Fox, left his seat in the audience and walked onto the stage of the second-floor meeting hall at the Hot Springs Convention Center.

He was there to show support for his wife and to make a special presentation. As a surprise, he had commissioned a one-of-a-kind pendant, a replica of the State Council's logo, cast in a gold medal. It is a triangle with an insert in the shape of the State of Arkansas, inscribed with “AEHC.” Each of the points of the triangle is marked with a diamond and a hanging bar is attached to the bottom of the triangle, inscribed with “President 2018-2020.”

This is just one example of the support he gives to his wife's endeavors and to the organization, which she will lead for the next two years. As he sees it, part of his role during her tenure is to be a sounding board and a shoulder to cry on, George said.  

Her term in office started July 1 for the almost 4,000-member state Council, which is associated with the University Of Arkansas System Division Of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.

One of the largest statewide, volunteer organizations in Arkansas, during fiscal 2016-17, the most recent period for which statistics are available, members gave more than 600,000 hours of volunteer service, with an estimated value of more than $16,000,000.

It will be a busy two years. In addition to the usual activities of state, district, county councils, and clubs, the State Council will host the NVON (National Volunteer Organization Network, Inc.) meeting in July at Springdale. NVON is comprised of member organizations working together to promote communication, education, and volunteerism for all people from eight states  –  Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Karen said her earliest memories of Extension Homemakers are of going to community activities provided by the organization when her Mother, the late Vanita Bell, was a member in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her association with Extension Homemakers began after she moved back to the “Y” Community near Rison from Dallas. In 1996, after the death of her mother, she left her job as the executive director of the Texas Association of Landscape Architects to come home to help her Father, Quenton Bell, with the poultry operation that her Mother had overseen since the 1960s. At the time, they had just built four new chicken houses and it was quite a challenge, Karen said because there was more automation than they were accustomed to.

Even though the family had been raising chickens since she was a youngster, Karen said that she was never allowed to work in the houses. That was her mother's domain. Her father was a salesman, a real estate developer and raised cattle.

George was still back in Texas, running his mortgage company. He commuted, leaving Dallas for Arkansas on Thursday evening and returning to Texas on Monday morning. This continued for three years, before he moved permanently, giving up city life for the farm. However, he said, it was not complete culture shock. He grew up in Central Illinois and his grandparents lived on a farm, so he was familiar with this way of life.

But he admits that it was “quite a change,” and that it took him two years to get used to this part of the country. After the death of Karen's father in April 1999, George permanently closed his mortgage business in July 1999 and joined Karen in the cattle and poultry operation, which they continue today.

He said that he began to recognize all the work that the “Extension Homemakers ladies” do after he became a member of the Cleveland County Fair Board. When he became president of the Fair Board, he became even more aware of their contributions. The whole group is very valuable and any fair board that doesn't utilize Extension Homemakers is missing a great volunteer resource, George said.

Karen put together the First Sunday Lunch, which was begun in January 2013 to raise funds for the Fair Board, he said. They were talking about fund-raisers and she suggested a lunch. For the first two years, she did the cooking for the event, George said.

They started out with about 50 attendees and have grown to between 100 and 150, according to Cleveland County Judge Gary Spears. He said it is a “good meal and a way to support the community.”

Spears described Karen as a “real go-getter” and noted that she and the Extension Homemakers are involved in a wide variety of community activities, including providing benches at the Cleveland County Courthouse and planting flowers to beautify the landscape. She and the Extension Homemakers are involved in almost every community project. She has done presentations for the Quorum County, including those on poison control, strokes and heart disease.

He said that he tries to help Extension Homemakers in any way he can. He is always kidding Karen telling her, “You owe me a pan of cookies,” and every so often she shows up with treats for the Courthouse crew.

“She's just a good person,” he added.

When Karen came back to Cleveland County, there was an Extension Homemakers Club in the “Y” Community – the “Y” Extension Homemakers Club –  and her cousin was a member, but she never invited her to join. The invitation came at the Cleveland County Fair from a club member that Karen didn't know. When Karen asked her cousin why she didn't offer an invitation, she replied, “We thought you were too busy.” 

Karen accepted the invitation to join the “Y” club and stayed, she said, because “I enjoy doing projects and the fellowship Extension Homemakers provide. I feel I can give back to the community and also be an example to others.”

The “Y” Club met during the day, Karen said, and with her farm responsibilities, it was difficult to get to meetings, so she eventually joined the Friendship Extension Homemakers Club, which meets at night. However, since joining, she has perfect attendance at both clubs' meetings.

In 2000, she became a member of the Cleveland County Extension Homemakers Council board and has perfect attendance at those meetings, as well.

She said that she is especially proud of the role that Extension Homemakers played in the building of the new fire department building and community building in the “Y” Community and the annual Christmas tree lighting and a visit by Santa Claus on the Cleveland County Courthouse square. The “Y” Club obtained donations to purchase a living tree and is responsible for the program each year. These were among the first projects in which she participated.

“I have worked with Karen and the Cleveland County Extension Homemakers program over the past 17 years,” said Diane Clement, family and consumer sciences agent with the Cleveland County Cooperative Extension Service, who will serve as an adviser to Karen during her term as state Council president. “Karen is a hard worker and has the ability to focus on and then complete large and small projects — all at the same time.”

Diane said that she had seen her progress as a leader from holding various offices in her clubs and the County Council to appointed and elected district and state offices, culminating in her election as state Council president.

“I am proud of her accomplishments and happy that Karen now has the opportunity to use her talents at the state level.”

Karen was appointed as an associate director for the Ouachita District and subsequently elected the director, responsible for assisting clubs and county councils in the 25 counties in the district.

She was state Council vice president and then president-elect, responsible for all aspects of the state meeting. She is also a former state Council parliamentarian, an appointed position.

For several years, she has been the EIN (Employer Identification Number) chairman for the State Council. Since the Internal Revenue Service started requiring all nonprofits to have EIN numbers and to file tax returns, Fox is charged with the job of assisting clubs and county councils with the intricacies of governmental red tape.

In her two decades of membership, she has held numerous offices and chairmanships in the “Y” Club, the Friendship Club and the County Council.

Kaye Green, a past state Council president, and Cleveland County Extension Homemaker has known Karen for 20 years. They met through the organization. Karen is a great promoter of Extension Homemakers, keeping the organization before the public, emphasizing what it has done, what it can do and what it will do, Kaye said.

It is one of the best-kept secrets in the state, Karen said.  It needs to be promoted, and “I feel like I can do that.”

Britt Talent, editor/publisher of the Cleveland County Herald at Rison, asked Eva Marie Pearson to profile Karen Bell Fox for the Herald. This article first appeared in the Herald on July 4.