September 1, 2006
By Mike Barnett
If there's one thing San Patricio County Farm Bureau members have been able to count on for the past 50 years, it's that county secretary Ada Lee Mutchler could answer all questions related to Farm Bureau.
"She's the thread that connected generations of Farm Bureau families," said District 13 Farm Bureau State Director Bobby Nedbalek, who has also served as past president of the San Patricio CFB. "As the years have gone by and we've been through the changes of county presidents, board members, and the different programs that serve our membership, Ada Lee wove it all together and kept us focused. She's been Ms. Farm Bureau to a lot of people for a lot of years."
Ada Lee grew up on a farm and ranch near Sinton, where her father raised cotton, grain, cattle, horses and mules.
"That was my life," she recalled in a recent interview at the San Patricio CFB office. "I had my little dog that rode behind me on my horse and I'd ride to town, six or seven miles, and no telephones, no nothing. My mother would send a note for me to give to the neighbor lady down the road to make sure at a certain time, `Ada Lee gets back on her pony and comes home.' This day and age, you wouldn't think about sending a three or four-year-old out on a lonely road, going back and forth. We were in a different era."
A different era, indeed. Upon graduation from high school in 1956, Leo Owen, former San Patricio CFB agency manager, asked her if she wanted to go to work. She started Monday morning, May 28, 1956, and never looked back.
"I'm still here," Ada Lee said. "I never thought I'd make a lifetime out of Farm Bureau. But after I'd been here a year, I knew I liked what I was doing. I never got burned out on it."
Reminiscing with this "young at heart lady" who makes the point that "I was a mere child when I started to work," it's easy to see that the "good old days" are sometimes better left behind.
"We used a manual Royal typewriter," she recalls, "no erasure elements; no spell check. We didn't make long distance phone calls. You wrote. Everything was done by correspondence. And the people would have to wait seven days before we received an answer.
"Of course, now we have our computers. I don't know how we ever did without them...and the fax machine. To me those are the two biggest elements that changed my career. They're fast.
"And I don't need a dictionary. I used to call mama, I was too lazy to look a word up in the dictionary. The computer, it has spell check. It formats, it does the whole thing."
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the grassroots nature of Farm Bureau.
"I like to think we're still a grassroots organization," she said. "Whenever you call, you still get that same, courteous service. Farm Bureau's bigger and better and all that, but it hasn't lost its fundamentals...being right there, for the individual, whenever they call and have a problem."
Ada Lee's duties have changed over the past couple of years. For one thing, she's cut back her work week to three days. With the reduced hours, she focuses on organization and membership work.
"I love to do organization work," she says. "It's a challenge. I love to visit with people. I like for San Patricio Farm Bureau to shine. We do a scrapbook every year and I love it. We used to do a queen's contest. I just love working with people to make San Patricio County Farm Bureau look good."
Ada Lee has a life outside of Farm Bureau, as well. While she works in town, her husband Melvin is a farmer and rancher. She's one of the organizers of the San Patricio County Riding and Roping Club, and was parade marshal of the Fiddler's Parade and the Culture Fest Parade for many years. That tradition has continued with a number of different parades including the homecoming parade in Sinton, the Illuminated Christmas Parade, and festivals through out South Texas.
"These are all my trophies my husband and I have for riding in parades," she points around her office with pride. "And my husband and I really enjoy that."
Ada Lee is active in the Chamber of Commerce and was elected as Outstanding Woman of the Year. In addition, she was first vice president and secretary of the Business Professional Women's Club.
Although all this activity has made for a busy life, her heart for the past 50 years has been with the farmers and ranchers of San Patricio County.
"It's family," Ada Lee says. "It's like my right arm. I haven't known anything else. Farmers are a different breed of people, but they're the best people there are."
She recalled one Sinton County Farm Bureau family, in particular, and the impact one member of that family has had on the state's largest farm organization. Ada Lee knew TFB's current Executive Director Vernie Glasson when he was a young man. Glasson's father was a former president of the San Patricio County Farm Bureau, she said.
"Vernie was a good boy. He was the first student that we had go to the Citizenship Seminar," Ada Lee said. "We're real proud of how he turned out. He is Sinton-grown. We're just so glad to have a leader like Vernie Glasson."
Having been in the Farm Bureau saddle for half a century, Ada Lee's not sure how long she'll continue working.
"I'm going to finish out this year, and it depends on what it looks like next year," she said. ""It's good for you to keep your mind busy. And I love my work.
"Leo Owen used to always say, `When you come to work, you don't know what it's going to be, but it's going to be something.' That's the best way to say it. I don't know what it's going to be, but it's going to be something."