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Career Path

Like many Cooperative Extension professionals in administration, Dr. Mann came up “through the ranks.”    She began her Extension experience at the age of 8 as a 4-H Club member in Morgan County, KY.  Her 4-H agent, Yandall Wrather and his wife, Barletta guided her, encouraged her father to drive her to high school, and later took her to the University of Kentucky and helped he find a sponsor and job so she could work her way through college. 

She began her professional Cooperative Extension career in 1945, as Assistant County Home Demonstration Agent, in Breathitt County, Kentucky, after teaching at Joppa High School in Joppa, Illinois. 

Later, she became the County Home Demonstration Agent for Pike County, Kentucky. She became was the first woman County Coordinator from 1960 to 61.  During these years she was a trainer for other Extension Home Economists throughout the district, then the state.

In the 1970’s and 80’s many of the Extension Home Economists had been trained by Opal or by the agents she had coached, mentored and prepared for this exciting career.
Opal moved her family to Lexington, Kentucky in 1961 to become the District Leader of Home Demonstration Agents in the Central District.  Later she served as State Program Specialist at the University of Kentucky, completed her Ph.D. at The Ohio State University, and then moved on to become Assistant Deputy Administrator Home Economics, Extension Service, USDA, in 1971. 

In her position as an Administrator at the Federal level, Dr. Mann provided leadership to home economics programs in the national system of the Cooperative Extension Service.  She often said, “This very much like ‘missionary work’ no matter what level I work”.  She assumed a leading role in determining program focus, and coordinating all facets of the national home economics programs setting national priorities and direction.  This was accomplished through involvement of others across the nation, however.  She did not believe top-down autocratic action was effective. 

She established teams and a strong cohort of state leaders.  She created an environment for state specialists to work closely with federal program specialists, and she believed in understanding the situation before attempting to make a decision, or set a direction for programs.  The result was an effective national program focus with national initiatives and programs valued by states and local communities across the country.