Craig County Conservation District Burns Mortgage

In the 1990s most of the board members and staff wanted to move the Craig County Conservation District into a new building of its own. Then-board member and current associate director Jay Franklin and Ben Pollard, OCC assistant director, cautioned the other board members and staff about the financial risks of such a move. Depending on local offices of USDA agencies to lease office space in the new building was risky as the entire USDA was undergoing downsizing and consolidation of offices.

Robert Willy, Craig County CD director, burns the district building mortgage, watched by Ernie Callison, husband of district secretary Jo Callison, and Sherri Mount, vice president of Welch State Bank.

Despite the challenges the majority of the district board was in favor of moving ahead with the project and acquired signed lease agreements from USDA for office space for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency and Rural Development.

The next hurdle was financing. The district bought the land for location of the new building, but struggled to get funding to pay for construction. Finally an arrangement was worked out with a Welch State Bank, Welch, Okla., for a lease/purchase agreement. Under the agreement, the bank would own the new building and the district would make lease payments until the agreed upon price was paid off. Then ownership would be transferred to the district.

Ben Pollard. OCC assistant director; Jo Callison, Craig CCD programs coordinator; and Jay Franklin, Craig CCD associate director, in front of the district building. Pollard and Franklin hold “Eat Crow” cakes that were presented to them.

Shortly after the building was completed the district, NRCS, FSA and RD moved out of the federal building in downtown Vinita and into the new building on November 16, 1998. A warehouse to store district equipment was also constructed.

The new 5,280 square foot building is located near the edge of Vinita and the parking areas facilitate all manner of vehicles, according to Jo Callison, district programs coordinator. “The farmers really like the fact that they can drive their tractors or farm trucks right up to the office to come in and take care of business,” she said.

Ben Pollard, OCC assistant director (left), “eats crow,” as Mike Thralls, OCC executive director, offers moral support.

The last payment on the mortgage was made in 2008, ahead of schedule, but it took a while before a celebration could be held to commemorate the event. On July 28, 2009, the Craig County Conservation District held a reception to commemorate the payoff of the mortgage on the district building. Among the attendees were “naysayers” Franklin and Pollard who were presented, in a humorous nature, with cakes decorated with the words “Eat Crow” and a picture of the aforementioned bird. The mortgage papers were ceremoniously burned much to the enjoyment of all parties.