When Tony Melton came to Clemson University, most of what he knew he had learned growing up on a farm in McBee, South Carolina. He combined this experience with classroom knowledge to help South Carolina farmers and gardeners succeed. Now, South Carolinians say “Thank you.”
A ceremony was held at the Pee Dee Research and Education Center (REC) in Florence, South Carolina, to honor Melton who is retiring as a Clemson Cooperative Extension Service horticulture agent. The ceremony included dedication of a garden in honor of Melton. The garden will be completed in phases throughout the year. A serviceberry tree was planted in the garden located at the Pocket Road entrance.
“I am the most blessed person on the face of this Earth,” Melton said. “I came from picking cotton and butterbeans on my granddaddy’s farm to working with some of the finest people in South Carolina agriculture.”
Melton’s stint with Clemson Extension began some 40 years ago. Now, health issues have forced him into retirement – or, more specifically, a second retirement. Members of the ag community and Clemson University paid tribute to Melton.
“I don’t know how many hours you spent working, but you’ve retired twice,” said Tommy Taylor of the Pee Dee Plant Professionals. “You’ve been a wonderful example for all of the people in the agriculture field. We are so thankful for you and for Clemson Extension and for what you all have done for our community.”
When Matt Smith became Pee Dee REC director nine years ago, he unknowingly challenged Melton by giving him a “second full-time job.
“I wanted someone to grow vegetables for farm-to-table research,” Smith said. “Tony was conducting vegetable research, so I gave him a plot on some of the worst land the Pee Dee REC has to offer. He worked with that land and was able to grow vegetables on it. I’ve been in this business for a long time and Tony epitomizes everything I think of when I think of an Extension agent. He’s knowledgeable, he’s friendly and he’s willing to do what it takes to help his clients.”
Smith said the serviceberry tree was a “perfect representation” to reflect Melton’s years of service to the people of South Carolina.
Some of Melton’s adventures include working on a research project to develop heat-tolerant butterbeans. He also was instrumental in developing several varieties of southern peas and also making improvements to Clemson Spineless okra. In addition, he developed a specialty in small fruits and vegetables.
Cory Tanner, horticulture program team director, cited the benefits Melton’s work brought to so many people in the industry.
“Tony Melton has been a mentor to so many Extension agents and has done so much to help advance the horticulture field in South Carolina,” Tanner said. “Nobody deserves this recognition more than him.”
Michael McManus, Pee Dee District Extension director, echoed these sentiments.
“Tony is the perfect example of an Extension agent,” McManus said. “He is very knowledgeable and he understands how to share this knowledge with people in the ag community so that they grow productive crops.”
Clemson Extension Director Tom Dobbins’ recollections begin when Melton returned to work after retiring the first time.
“When I became director of the Clemson Extension Service, I kept hearing about this guy ‘Tony’ and all of the great work he was doing,” Dobbins said. “At that time, he was working three days a week. I asked him why he was just working three days a week and he said, ‘Well, sir, I just love what I do.’ So, I asked him if he would consider working five days a week. He said ‘yes’ and we put him back to working five days a week.”
When Dobbins first met Melton, it was at the Agribiz Expo in Florence. Melton was wearing an earbud.
“I had asked how would I know Tony when I saw him,” Dobbins said. “I was told he’d be wearing an earbud. When I arrived at the Expo, I saw this guy wearing an earbud and talking on his phone. It was Tony and he talked to people who called him the whole time he was at the Expo. This is just one example of the dedication he has for the people of South Carolina.”
Melton went through five earbuds while working as an Extension agent. But that was a small price to pay to be able to work in a job he loved.
“I grew up poor, but I was fortunate to go to Clemson University and, then, I had the opportunity to work for Clemson Extension,” Melton said. “Being an Extension agent has been a wonderful experience, but I always said I didn’t work for Clemson Extension, I worked for the people of South Carolina.
“As a Clemson Extension agent, I’ve always tried to give the people of South Carolina what they needed to help make their lives better.”
The South Carolina agriculture community is returning the love. McLeod Farms has established a scholarship at Clemson University named for Melton, who did landscape work at the farm when he was a teenager.
During his career, Melton frequently appeared on the Making It Grow program hosted by Amanda McNulty.
“Tony has a servant’s heart,” McNulty said. “He has always been available to help the South Carolina agricultural community. During growing season, he would leave home at 5 a.m. to scout large farms for diseases and pests, dramatically reducing the amount of pesticides used. Rather than following a schedule, farmers relied on Tony to let them know when a problem needed treatment.”
Melton is retiring after being diagnosed with a genetic mutation that affects his liver. He attended the Pee Dee REC ceremony just after receiving treatment at a local hospital.
In this video from 2011, Kemp McLeod talks about how Tony Melton helped him protect his peaches during a summer scorcher so that they could produce quality fruit and sell their peaches instead of culling them.
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