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Bright says goodbye to Preston extension office

Temporary job turned into 28-year career

KINGWOOD  — Sometimes deciding to retire  isn’t easy.  It involves changing your routine and not seeing office friends as often as you would like.

For Karen Bright, who recently retired from the Preston County Extension Office, retirement will include some volunteer work and spending more time with her music and her two grandchildren.

Bright said when she started working at West Virginia University  in 1992, her job in human resources was supposed to be  temporary  and last only a few weeks. 

Her temporary job stretched into 28 years.

“She’s been a great coworker and colleague,” David Hartley, Preston County WVU Extension agent, said. “She’s always been willing to help people learn.”

Hartley said Bright was a “great public servant” who served Preston County on a number of boards.

“She’ll be missed as part of our staff,” he said. “I’ll miss how she comes in   humming a tune.  I wish her the best.”

Bright transferred from Morgantown to Preston County when  a job opened  at the local  Extension Office.

“When my child fell off the monkey bars and it took me an hour to get to the school from Morgantown, I thought it was time to make a change,” she said. “When the  job came up in Preston County, I took it.”

One aspect of her new job that Bright enjoyed was teaching cooking classes.

“I liked to try different cuisine, like … vegetarian, Italian and cooking around the world,” she said. “It gave local people taking my class  a chance to try different foods, even if they didn’t travel.”

Bright said she held classes in microwave cooking, Instant Pot cooking, crock pot cooking and canning.

“I didn’t know how to can. Beatrice Plum Criss took me under her wing and taught me,” she said. “Beatrice won  lots of blue ribbons at the Buckwheat Festival, and she did canning classes for me.”

She held some of her  cooking  classes for low income people who wanted to improve their cooking skills.

 Bright helped  her students prepare the meals during class and encouraged everyone attending to help during the cooking process.

Once the food was cooked, it was sampled by the students. At the end of the class, the same ingredients used that day were distributed to students.  This allowed them to cook the same meal at home for their families.

Cooking and teaching  is not the only thing at which Bright excels.  She is also an accomplished singer.

 “I’ve always been a singer,” she said. I sang my first solo at age 4.”

Bright said her first concert was to raise money for Food for Preston.

“It was held in the Rowlesburg Park, and people brought cans of food for admission,” she said.

Another opportunity to sing  was at a Preston County health fair.

“Jim Hollis and the band were playing music.  I asked Jim if I could sing,” Bright said. “Then he started calling me up at other events and ask me to sing.   So my husband [Matthew] and I joined the band.”

 Proceeds from one of  the    CDs she cut  went to the  Preston County Arts Center.  The proceeds from her CD of Patsy Cline songs  went to Food for Preston. 

  “I’m passionate about Food for Preston. I’m not retiring from it. I’m the historian for them now,” Bright  said. “Being retired, I will have more time for my  singing.”

 She  is not going to give up teaching cooking classes either.

“I’ll still do some classes for the extension office as a volunteer,” Bright said. “And I will still cook at the farmers market.  I enjoy taking the food they [vendors at the farmers market] give me and turning it into a dish.”

When she is not volunteering, she plans to do crafts and paint.

“I’ll still work with Food for Preston and Empty Bowls,” Bright said. “And I can teach both adults and youths. I’m the last cross-trained teacher in the county.”

She said she is grateful to WVU for the opportunity it gave her. 

“I’m proud to live in Preston County, and I like to give back what I can,” Bright said. “I never thought my life would go the way it did.”