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When Deborah Koon applied for a job at Clemson University, her father jokingly advised her “Make sure you act like you have some sense.”
She apparently heeded her dad’s advice, because Koon secured the job. That was 50 years ago in 1969, when Richard Nixon was president of the United States, Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon and the average cost of a new home was around $15,000.
Since then, Koon has moved from the role of an entry-level clerk, to administrative roles in meat and poultry health inspection, to her current role as operations manager for Livestock Poultry Health (LPH). She retired many years ago and loved Clemson so much that she returned to the same postion. Livestock Poultry Health consists of Animal Health Programs, S.C. Meat and Poultry Inspection and the Veterinary Diagnostic Center, LPH is vital to farmers in the Midlands region and across the state. Among other things, LPH conducts lab testing for conditions like e-Coli, listeria and salmonella, inspects meat processing plants and offers large animal post-mortem services like necropsies. (Think human autopsy, except it’s for an animal, which makes it a necropsy.)
Koon pretty much manages it all. Each day is different. It’s an interesting job with a wide variety of functions. Koon oversees the building and laboratory maintenance and repair, contracts, human resources, procurement, and the all-important budget.
“Those 50 years end up becoming a tremendous advantage for us,” said Boyd Parr, LPH director and state veterinarian. “She’s meticulous on our audits. She has the history of how things have been done in the past; the origins of certain money and what the negotiations were. It helps us to protect our resources, so that we don’t lose things in transition between people.”
A portion of LPH’s funding comes from federal grants. Koon monitors those funds with an eagle’s eye. She ensures the funding is spent, records are maintained, and budgets are balanced…to the penny.
“Dr. Parr wants zero dollars left on his grants,” said Koon. “We work well together. Dr. Parr runs LPH like he ran his own personal business, many years ago. He’s aware of any and everything going on around here and every dollar spent. We try to be very efficient around here.”
In her 50+ years on the job, a lot of things have changed. Telephone switchboards morphed into cellphones, computers transitioned from large mainframes to handheld devices and typewriters deferred to desktops. But Koon still has her typewriter, and occasionally, she uses it.
“Believe it or not, there are still some government forms that aren’t printable. You have to go in and type,” she explained.
While much has changed in 50 years, one thing that hasn’t changed is her ability to create relationships. It’s the thing that she enjoys most about working for Clemson.
“I’ve worked with some really great people,” Koon said. “Dr. Parr’s been refreshing to work with because he understands budget. We speak the same language when we’re looking at reports.”
Not only do they speak the same language—they finish each other’s sentences and trust that they are always on the same page.
Trust is everything in rural communities. Koon is a lifelong resident, and part of the fabric of Kershaw County. Her father was the Kershaw County forest ranger for 34 years and a farmer. As a little girl she raised farm animals, and today cares for her donkeys, Pearl and Levi. Her family—two daughters, three grandsons and too many cousins to count, still remain in the area.
“After 50 years, there are not many people around here that Deborah has to deal with that she doesn’t know,” said Parr. “That goes a long way. When you establish relationships with people, they know who they can trust. Everything starts with trust.”
“As a child, I loved farm life,” said Koon. “Now we support farmers in the area and across the state. It’s what I love to do.”
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