One of the most beloved, and helpful, officials in Liberty County during the depression years from 1930 to 1940 was Edna R. Fennell, home demonstration agent. She was a frail, gray-haired lady who never married, and went about her business driving a Ford Model-A roadster. She had a pleasant smile and a soft voice, and a will of steel when it came to getting her job done.
The first Fennells in Liberty County came from North Carolina during the ante-bellum years. Edna R. Fennell was the daughter of John W.A. and Margaret C. Robinson Fennell, and the granddaughter of John N. and Mary E. Girardeau Fennell. John N. Fennell was sheriff of Liberty County during and just after the Civil War.
Edna R. Fennell and G.B. Eunice Sr., farm agent for Liberty County, were employed by the Liberty County Board of Commissioners to give technical assistance to farmers and farm households in the county. Both of them were also active in various civic affairs.
The Georgia Extension Service was organized in 1932 and made a part of the University of Georgia at the same time. But it took quite a while for the state extension service to evolve in Liberty County. Fennell and Eunice did their work without the guidance taken for granted by county extension agents today.
There was a white and a black home demonstration agent in Liberty County during the racially segregated years of the 1930’s. Fennell supervised the work of Mary L. Ralston, a black lady, who worked with black farm wives and others.
Farm wives in Liberty County had, of course, been canning fruits, vegetables, and meats in glass containers for years. Fennell instituted a program to preserve those same products in tin cans in order that they might be sold on the open market. Such a program was welcomed by farm wives during those depression years.
Fennell solicited assistance in getting her job done whenever and wherever she could. The Liberty County Chamber of Commerce was one of her chief sources of assistance. She was a familiar sight at its meetings, and it never failed to help her when it could.
The Liberty County Chamber of Commerce purchased a small canning outfit for Fennell which she and Ralston loaned to farm wives to can farm products in tin cans. The ladies supervised the process to make sure that health standards were observed. Fennell then found markets for the canned products, generally in Savannah, Georgia.
Fennell wrote an article for the Liberty County Herald in 1936 pointing out that the Liberty County Board of Commissioners had employed extension workers for the past 15 years. She said the workers kept farm wives and others better informed on new methods of homemaking.
It was largely through the persistent efforts of Fennell that the old Bradwell Institute building just off courthouse square in Hinesville was remodeled, renamed Bradwell Hall, and made available for official, educational, and recreational purposes.
There were five white and three black Home Demonstration Clubs in liberty County by 1935. All of them were quite active in the fields of gardening, canning, home decorating, and dressmaking. All of them assisted in other civic endeavors.
There were 209 white and a slightly smaller number of black children enrolled in Liberty County 4-H Clubs by 1935. Some of them attended county and state camps, and some of them won scholarships to Georgia colleges.
Fennell instigated the beautification of the Liberty County Courthouse grounds. In time the flowers and shrubbery faded. Many years later, Reverend J.W. Miller and his wife, Marian Fraser Miller, landscaped the courthouse grounds on their own. They worked many hours under a hot sun to create an oasis of beauty in the middle of Hinesville.
Homeowners were encouraged by Fennell to beautify the grounds of their homes. Nellie Simmons Mobley of the Gum Branch community became so proficient in the breeding and cross-breeding of flowers around her home that in time she actually sold seed to national seed companies. Her flower garden became so famous that people came from miles around to admire her handiwork, and perhaps beg a cutting or two to plant in their own garden.
Fennell and members of the Hinesville-Flemington Womens Club sometimes were hostesses for meetings of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce in Bradwell Hall. The ladies always served the gentlemen a meal, after which the gentlemen gave a “rising vote of thanks” to them for the “excellent supper” served.
Fennell was quite active in organizing exhibitions of accomplishments, handicraft, and homemaking activities of the Home Demonstration Clubs and 4-H Clubs at the Liberty County Fair. It was she who named the judges who presented ribbons to the best exhibitions. The exhibitions were the most popular part of the fair.
It was Fennell who organized a program for the Liberty County 4-H Clubs which competed in the 4-H Rural Entertainment Contest held at Baxley, Georgia, in 1937. The contest was sponsored by Sears, Roebuck & Company, in cooperation with the state agricultural extension service. Five areas took part in the contest, including Liberty, Laurens, Emanuel, Coffee, and Chatham counties. The winning group became eligible to compete in the state contest at Athens, Georgia, during Farm and Home Week. Judges for the competition were officers of the state extension service.
Edna R. Fennell was a vital part of the passing parade in Liberty County for many years. She took part in many civic endeavors. She assisted people willingly when they needed help the most. Those people who knew her well will never forget this tiny, cheerful, energetic lady who gave so much of herself over so many years for their well-being.