May 4, 2016
Man’s environmental efforts honored
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Eugene Wright stands on the back deck at his cabin Monday on Brake Hill in Homer. Wright was recently recognized for 50 years of service by the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District.
HOMER — As the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District celebrates70 years of service to the community, Eugene Wright, chairman of its board of directors, has reached a milestone ofhis own.
This year marks his50th year with the agency — 46th as chairman — and from his home on Brake Hill Road on Monday afternoon, he said time flies when you’re doing what you love.
Wright, 88, grew up in Johnson City on his family farm, one of the oldest in Broome County, before moving to Cortland County shortly after graduating from Cornell University in 1950.
Walter Wright is Eugene’s youngest brother. He still works on the Fourth Wright farm, the family farm in Johnson City.
Walter Wright confirmed Tuesday morning his brother has always loved farm work and had a reputation for taking care of animals. From raising piglets after the sow died giving birth and even convincing his family to keep bees for a time, his older brother was a ways encouraging his siblings to be good stewards of the land, he said.
In addition, Eugene Wright was a leader, and given his humility and commitment, Walter Wright said he wasn’t surprised to hear Cortland County residents were recognizing his brother for 50 years of service.
“He was always the big brother,” Wright said. “From my point of view, he was always somebody I looked up to.”
In 1966, Eugene Wright received a call from Bill Bean who was a director of the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District at the time. He was leaving and thought Wright would be a good fit.
“I didn’t have to spend an awful lot of time thinking about it,” Eugene Wright said. “I have always felt I wanted to be involved in more than just my farm (and) in the community. As I recall, it was an easy decision on my part.”
In the earlier days of the conservation district, the agency didn’t have too many responsibilities as it focused only on helping local farmers minimize soil erosion and improve drainage.
“When I was first involved, the district itself didn’t really get out and do anything. It’s evolved so we’re out on the land.”
Over the years, state and federal initiatives have led to the Soil and Water Conservation District taking on more responsibility, leading to the district providing more services to the community, Wright said.
Today, the district offers a wide range of services like soil and water conservation education, equipment rentals and tree planting programs.
Amanda Barber, the agency’s director, said Tuesday that with Eugene Wright’s experience and policy knowledge, he could take credit for helping to shape not just his local district but districts across the state.
Of course, doing that would be completely out of character for the person she and other county Soil and Water District staff have come to appreciate and respect over the years, she said.
“He leads in a very quiet way,” Barber said. “He’s not in this because he likes the power or he likes being in charge. He serves because it’s important to the community. He’s just extremely dedicated. That’s the kind of person he is.”
In fact, Wright said, in his opinion, any recognition should be given to the people he’s had the pleasure of working with over the years.
“We’re in the top group of districts in the state,” he said. “We’ve had a dedicated group of directors down through the years. We’ve had good support from the county Legislature. We have had the support ... that has helped us stay on top of the game.”
Next year, Wright will reach the end of his 17th consecutive term with the district and he said he’s been thinking about whether to continue serving as chairman of the board or retiring from his position.
He added if he chooses to retire, he can look back on what will then be 51 years he chose to dedicate to the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District as one of the best decisions he’s ever made.
“I’m glad I made the choices I did,” he said. “I’m not living a life of regret or anything. I’ve done what I wanted to do.”
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe