Known affectionately as the “Dirt Lady,” Patty Dellinger has retired from her duties as director of the Lincoln County Soil and Water Conservation District after serving more than three decades in that department. Starting out with the county on July 11, 1988, as a clerk typist, Dellinger worked her way up in the department to the directorship.
“I had no idea what the department was,” she said. “I thought it was sewer and water or something like that. Of course, that was not it, but I was fortunate to get the job.”
At that time there were three other staff members. They were technical employees and spent a lot of time out in the field working with farmers.
“With them being out of the office I didn’t really know what to do so this gave me the opportunity to do research to learn about the office and the services provided as well as to learn about the partnership with the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, the USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Service,” she said. “It took about a year to really figure out how everything worked and to learn all the acronyms that were used.”
Dellinger also served as backup for the county switchboard which handled the calls for all county departments.
“Assisting with the switchboard helped me learn about other county departments and the services they provided,” she said. “Al Sharp was the county manager at the time.”
It’s no surprise that regulations have changed in the county and the state since Dellinger started with the department. There were far more dairy farms when she started and participation with the soil and water conservation department at that time was voluntary. In 2007, erosion control became mandatory, and the department had to become an enforcement agency.
Dellinger was named the Lincoln County Employee of the Year in 2015 and then two years later, was appointed to director of the department which Rick McSwain retired. Dellinger had effectively worked her way up from the lowest position in the department to the top.
“The opportunity to work with the students and have an impact on their environmental education was probably one of my most important accomplishments,” she said. “With my guidance, I think the department has been able to promote itself, so people are more familiar with us and what we do. Our customer service has been excellent too.”
Dellinger also was instrumental in making old aerial photography available to the citizens of the county.
“I was able to work with the tax department to create a layer on GIS for the old aerials for flights in 1938, 1951, 1956, 1970 and 1981,” she said. “These historic aerials are used to complete Phase 1 Environmental Assessments, property boundary or old road designations, look at land prior to the lake, and so forth. I have focused on doing presentations for the county commissioners, rotary clubs, chamber of commerce and other groups which has made citizens more aware of the soil and water conservation district, the services we provide and the district board.”
Another goal that Dellinger had was to host an Earth Day event for the community. The first one was held April 2014 and now includes a shred event and operation medicine drop. It’s become very popular and citizens call each year asking about the date for the shred event.
The Dirt Lady, who admits that she’ll never look at soil or water in the same way again, is retiring to be a “mi-mi” to her first grandson, Steele.
After 33 years I can still say that I love my job,” she said. “I love Lincoln County and am glad that I had the opportunity to serve the citizens. I’m also grateful for the opportunity to work with Lincoln County teachers in providing environmental education programs for the students. Due to COVID and restrictions I was not able to do in-person programs for the schools during the past year. We looked at ways to continue with the educational programs and formed a partnership with the library to do virtual farm tours for students. The tours are a behind the scenes expedition with an educational component. There is a link on the soil and water webpage for all the educational videos we produced. It is very humbling to have small children come up to you with their parents and say, ‘Hey Ms. Patty’ or this is the ‘dirt lady’ and offering a hug most of time.”
Evan Crawley has been named director with Dellinger’s retirement.