11/21/07 — Two named to Wayne County Agricultural Hall of Fame

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Two named to Wayne County Agricultural Hall of Fame

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on November 21, 2007 1:45 PM

As members of agricultural and urban business communities sat down together for the 2007 Wayne County Farm-City Banquet Tuesday night, the 24th two-member class was inducted into the Wayne County Agricultural Hall of Fame.

Featuring one living inductee and one deceased, this year's two honorees were Charles Sykes and William Otis Wood.

Wood, who was born in Alabama in 1915, died in 1989.

In between, he distinguished himself in the Wayne County agricultural community.

In 1951, he accepted a position at Mount Olive High School to develop and built a vocational agriculture program -- including its facilities.

Then, in 1965, when Mount Olive and three other high schools were consolidated to form Southern Wayne, he was appointed chairman of the vocational agriculture department, and spent about a year-and-a-half developing it and the schools Future Farmers of America chapter before retiring in 1966.

During his retirement, Wood then turned his attention to Cates Pickle Co., where he worked for 18 years with farmers in Wayne and other counties and states.

He also was a member of Mount Olive First Baptist Church, Woodmen of the World, Mount Olive Jaycees, the Wayne County Agricultural Workers Council and the Wayne County Livestock Development Association.

"(He) left a legacy that has affected thousands of Wayne County citizens," said county Cooperative Extension agent Kevin Johnson.

"I think this would have meant a lot to him," Wood's widow, Frances Wood said. "I'm just sorry he can't know about it. He loved his work and he would have been so proud."

The other inductee, Charles Sykes, is still in the process of building his legacy -- one that Johnson described as full of "character and integrity."

Originally from Cumberland County, Sykes and his family bought the Mount Olive Livestock Market in 1950 and have operated it ever since.

An active member of the Board of Directors of the Wayne County Livestock Development Association, the N.C. Livestock Market Association, the National Livestock Market Associate and the Mount Olive Chamber of Commerce, Sykes, 78, said he's persevered through the last 57 years because of hard work and passion for the job.

"We just work hard at it and we've made enough to feed us," he said with a smile.

And he doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.

"Really, this award means a lot," Sykes said. "I've been in the business for over 50 years. You don't really retire where I work. I take this with a lot of pride and joy. I've enjoyed every day of my work in the stock yards."

But the hall of fame inductees weren't the only people honored Tuesday night.

Also since 1984, an Outstanding Woman in Agriculture has been recognized each year.

This year, the winner was Wayne County native Audrey West.

Born into a farming household, Mrs. West, now 61, continued farming part-time after marrying her husband, Jerry West, in 1966.

But that wasn't all she did. She also worked for Thurston Motor Lines for 20 years and raised their two sons.

Since 1989, though, she's been back in agriculture on a full-time basis.

She has sold tobacco at Big Star Warehouse. She keeps all the books for West Farms, B&C Farming, Grain LLC and Nahunta Swamp Pickers. She also handles all the migrant labor requirements and other management needs.

But not only has her role impacted the local community and her family's operation, it's also allowed her husband the flexibility to work on statewide agricultural issues through the N.C. Tobacco Growers Association and the Wayne County and state Farm Service Agencies.

"The role of women in agriculture has changed," Mrs. West said. "We're not hands-on out in the fields anymore. We're more behind the scenes doing the work nobody else wants to do, so it's to be nice to be recognized for that."