Gay Spencer has come to know Kansas well — both figuratively and literally — working as a district conservationist with the National Resources Conversation Service for three decades.
Doing conservation work, contracting and working with local producers in her role with the NRCS, Spencer has worked all over the state — starting in Yates Center and Independence in southeast Kansas before her career brought her to south-central Kansas (spending time in offices in Butler, Chase and Harvey counties). Initially, the Dodge City native got her feet wet as a member of the soil judging team in college.
"I kept saying I don't want to go back any further west, and I keep getting that way," Spencer said.
As a conservationist, Spencer is very hands-on getting to know the land in the communities she serves. One of the first prominent projects she remembers helping with that sold her on the work was staking a waterway in Neosho County — partly because she would drive by it every day on her way to the office.
From southeast to south-central Kansas, there are certainly different techniques in conserving the land, Spencer noted. Over the years, the focus on conservation has shifted and how the job is done has changed as well, but Spencer said through it all she has especially enjoyed the opportunity to work the land throughout Kansas.
"One thing that I liked about the work is you can get outside and you don't have to be tied to a computer," Spencer said. "We're tied to a computer a lot more (now), but there's a variety of work; you can get out in the field."
With the roles of a district conservationist continuing to change, Spencer is ready for a change herself — entering retirement after 32 years with the NRCS — including the last 12 with the Harvey County Conservation District. Her last day in the Harvey County offices will be Dec. 31.
Spencer said she is looking forward to taking on some home projects while also freeing herself up to volunteer more in the community. While working, volunteer opportunities were limited to the weekends for Spencer.
Preserving resources is a job Spencer took seriously, and while she noted it has been great to see more females come into the field over the years since she started, more than anything she leaves her work behind happy to have helped the community (especially producers) in a specific way.
"Hopefully the farmers that we helped, a lot of them do conservation anyway," Spencer said, "but hopefully we helped them save the soil and the other natural resources."