From an early age, Dr. Martha Couch remembers her mother, Beulah, attending a monthly Texas Agricultural Extension Service—now Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service—home demonstration club to learn about topics like nutrition and canning. “A lot of people didn’t have freezers back then, so it was a necessary skill,” she said. Little did Couch know that her mother’s involvement in these monthly meetings would result in far more than canned goods.
Beulah caught wind of an extension youth organization, known as 4-H, through her monthly club, and Couch and her younger sister got involved. What began as a leadership and citizenship-building youth program for a 9-year-old Couch blossomed into a successful 36-year career with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, with 30 of those years enriching children’s lives as a 4-H educator and leader.
In 2012, Couch was bestowed the organization’s highest honor when she was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame, which she credits to the experiences the organization afforded her. “I grew up on a farm about 17 miles from Big Spring, Texas, and it was 4-H that brought me into contact with other people, helped me learn how to speak in public and got me interested in college,” she explained.
One could say “interested in college” proved to be an understatement. Couch went on to earn three degrees from Texas Tech University: a bachelor’s in home economics, a master’s in family studies and a doctorate in home economics education.
AgriLife Roots Expand
Many of Couch’s greatest successes have derived from the values and skills she learned through her childhood and professional experiences with AgriLife. “AgriLife Extension began more than 100 years ago to help Texas citizens with everything from nutrition and estate planning to best agricultural practices,” she said. “The idea is to help educate citizens on the county level to strengthen our communities.”
The retired AgriLife professional has witnessed AgriLife Extension evolve from an agency that once focused on rural community outreach to one that now touches lives through continued education in even the most populated areas. “Back in the day, our audience was typically rural because those folks had less access to knowledge,” Couch said, “but, through the years, our audience has expanded to include urban areas. AgriLife has adapted to keep pace with the changing times, and that adaptability has served a very important role in providing all Texans with relevant science-based education. This has been especially important in assisting many individuals through hardships faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Couch expressed that regardless of any changes throughout its history, AgriLife Extension has been and will continue to be a resource for Texas citizens that is rooted in real scientific research. “It’s not people selling something,” she said. “AgriLife Research does the research to determine what works, and AgriLife Extension extends that knowledge for the betterment of Texans.”
Creating Informed Citizens
A few years after Couch celebrated her retirement in 2008, her younger sister passed away. It was this life event that made her evaluate her estate plans. “My sister’s death prompted me to consider that I am the last in my family line. I knew that if the Couch family line was going to continue, I needed to create an estate plan that would honor my family’s legacy.”
With this top of mind, Couch created a plan that would provide financial stability and comfort during her lifetime, while also honoring her family’s commitment to making a difference and creating future opportunities. She planned a gift in her estate to the Texas A&M Foundation that will endow a fund to support 4-H educators after her life. And, as luck would have it, Couch had all the right connections through the AgriLife Extension agency to locate someone who could help her with the legalities of her will. “I had a former extension colleague draw up my paperwork,” she said. “He worked as an extension agent in ag economics, but he was also a licensed attorney.”
The personal connections Couch made during her AgriLife journey also inspired her decision to use her planned gift to support educators. She noted that Dr. Catherine Crawford and the late Elinor Harvey were both significant to her career in extension. "These women helped me build a success base that allowed me to become the district specialist for more than 40 counties and later oversee the entirety of the 4-H program," she shared. "They gave back to me, so if I don't give back to future educators, that line is lost."
Couch stressed the importance of fund support to ensure future generations will benefit from AgriLife Extension’s wealth of knowledge and programs. “As we know, the success of The Texas A&M University System depends heavily on donor support, and extension efforts are part of that system,” she said. “I am doing my part to create the future of the Texas 4-H program because it has made a difference in the lives of millions of youth and their families. I believe it’s a youth leadership program that creates informed citizens who will better our state and country.”
To learn more about how to support the countless programs Texas A&M AgriLife Extension provides as an educational resource for all Texans, contact Brandy Kines ’05 by completing the form below. Gifts made to the Texas A&M Foundation can be specified to support local extension efforts. For more information on creating a planned gift, contact Kelsey Christian ’02 at email@example.com.