DENHAM SPRINGS -- Like any college student, Kenny Sharpe was “just a kid looking for a job” when he interviewed for the 4-H agent position in Ascension Parish in the late 1970s.
Fast forward more than four decades later, and he’ll tell you he’s never worked a day in his life.
“I really enjoyed what I did,” Sharpe said. “I never woke up upset that I had to go to work. I never had that day. I had a great career.”
That career came to a bittersweet end last month, when dozens of friends, family members, colleagues, and co-workers gathered in the gym at First Baptist Church in Denham Springs for Sharpe’s retirement party on Tuesday, May 28.
Several people spoke during the ceremony of their experiences with Sharpe, who became the county agent with the LSU Cooperative Extension Service in Livingston Parish in 1987.
Rusty Batty, a close friend and retired county agent, said Sharpe had “an impeccable work ethic and unique personality.” Dale Cambre, of the Louisiana Cattleman’s Association, said Sharpe “was always there whenever you called on him.” Chiquita Briley, Southeast regional director for the LSU AgCenter, said Sharpe made her feel “immediately welcome and home.”
During his 32 years in the position, Sharpe served as the Southeast District Livestock Show Manager and worked closely with groups such as the Cattleman’s Association, Master Gardeners, and the Louisiana County Agents Association. He also spent much time meeting with farmers, landowners, and homeowners throughout southeast Louisiana.
But ask him, and he’ll say he never worked at all.
“Wow, this is amazing,” Sharpe said after the room erupted in a standing ovation. “You can’t imagine how much I appreciate this. Not everybody gets to go to a job that they really like and spend a career doing something they love.
“But I’m that guy, and I’ve had a ton of fun in this job.”
Growing up in Jackson, Louisiana, Sharpe said he was raised in a “relatively rural environment,” with cattle and pastures all around him from an early age.
When he went to LSU, Sharpe studied animal sciences and did “a lot” of livestock judging because of his background with animals. It eventually opened the door to his future career.
“The father of one of my judging team members worked at the AgCenter, and he asked my friend if we had anyone on the team with a strong background in livestock.
“The son said, ‘Kenny,’ so his dad ended up calling me during my last semester and consequently, I ended up going to work for them.”
Sharpe held the 4-H agent position in Ascension Parish for two years before moving to Livingston Parish in 1980. He continued to work in 4-H until transitioning to county agent when Reymond D’Armond retired after 40 years in 1987.
Though Sharpe didn’t quite reach D’Armond’s lengthy tenure, he came close — and accomplished nearly as much.
As county agent, Sharpe said his office’s responsibility was “to take the research that was being generated from the university out to the farms.” He met with farmers regularly, always trying to offer helpful tips on how to yield the best results from their land.
“I dealt with whatever came across the wire,” he said. “I was seeking out the farmers and visiting them and making routine contact with them. Then other people would call me with issues they had in their gardens, whether it was freeze and ponds and landscapes. I always wanted to help people.”
Karen Cambre, who became the administrator coordinator under Sharpe two years ago, said people called the office “all the time” seeking Sharpe’s advice, whether it was a question on what fertilizer to use in the south Louisiana climate or how to best get rid of bats.
Sharpe never turned anyone away, Cambre said.
“He was open to any question,” she said. “He never made anyone feel like he was superior. He made you feel at ease, and he’d never get stressed out. I really admired and looked up to him.”
Aside from being the county agent, Sharpe became known for his weekly column for The News, titled “Sharpe’s Point.”
Over three decades, he used the column to discuss a plethora of subjects, educating his faithful readers on the effects of frost, which gardens are easiest to plant in spring, when citrus trees need “special” attention, the effects of “fire blight” or “quince rust,” and a wide range of other topics.
In his final column, titled “That time yellow jackets swarmed my truck,” Sharpe looked back on his career and column, saying he was “no writer” when he first started and that it took him some time to get comfortable contributing to a newspaper.
“In the beginning, each week felt like I had a new term paper due, and I had to come up with a topic,” Sharpe wrote in his final column, which ran on April 30. “When I started, there were no computers and electronic transfers. I wrote the article, and then it had to be typed on a typewriter. A trip to the newspaper’s office was required each week — much different than the computer I type into today and the ability to hit ‘send.’”
But practice makes perfect — or at least “better,” Sharpe joked — and over the years he said he became more known for his column than anything else he did.
Sharpe’s wife of 41 years, Becky, read his last column before he sent it to the press. During the retirement party, she said she got choked up as she read about her husband’s appreciation for working in the parish, his early reluctance as a writer, and a funny story involving a throng of yellow jackets that swarmed his truck. The last was a story even Becky had not heard before.
“He put his heart into his last column,” she said. “He loved his job and the people in this parish, and it came through in his last column. It was real bittersweet for him.”
Though he loved his job, Sharpe said the time “felt right” to move into the next chapter of his life. He said he hoped he made a lasting impact during his time working in the parish.
“My philosophy always was the people that I encountered are the people I needed to help,” he said. “If someone can help you, then you do it. What I tried to do was never ignore calls, try to get back to people in a timely manner.”
“What I basically did for a living was troubleshoot and help people with their problems. Being successful with that and seeing people overcome some obstacle was always a fun thing for me, and it was a challenge everyday. You never knew what was gonna happen on any given day. I never had two days alike in all my years. My job was never boring.”