News Leading Ladies: Women’s Committee Chairs Reflect on Service

Leading Ladies: Women’s Committee Chairs Reflect on Service

Leading Ladies: Women’s Committee Chairs Reflect on Service
March 1, 2024 |

By Marlee Jackson

Since 1965, forty-four women have had a special seat at the table empowering thousands of county volunteers integral to Alabama Farmers Federation success.

They’re State Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC) chairs — and they’ve led by example.

From inaugural chair Mabel McDole of Limestone County to current leader Debbie Dunn of Geneva County, their work has reflected county committees’ priorities, projects and programs. 

That includes organizing political forums, hosting farm days, coordinating pop tab collections and encouraging public service work. They promote homegrown values in the State House; serve as Alabama FarmPAC trustees; and lead county boards and committees.

They also organize popular cooking contests, sewing and decorating competitions, and agricultural literacy events, in addition to serving an ex-officio term on the state board.

These mighty members’ hospitality, helpfulness and hard work create what is arguably the “secret sauce” critical to sharing the Farming Feeds Alabama message across ages.

Federation Women’s Leadership Division Director Kim Earwood praised volunteers for their enthusiasm, whether meeting political candidates, attending the Women’s Leadership Conference or donating accurate ag books to libraries. 

“It is truly amazing the breadth and depth of work our ladies accomplish each year,” said Earwood, who began working with the State WLC in 2005. “They know what it means to have a servant’s heart. County and State Women’s Leadership Committee members make an incredible impact in their communities. They are rooted in conservative values but also know the importance of innovating with the times. We are proud of their accomplishments.”

The reflections of three former state chairs follow. These leading ladies represent just a fraction of the Federation’s savvy, service-oriented volunteer-leaders, but Earwood said there’s always room for more. 

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Rita Garrett, Cherokee County

Rita Garrett, Cherokee County

Lord, help me do this.”

Rita Garrett whispered that prayer before stepping up to podiums and presiding at meetings in 2012 — a key part of her duties as State WLC chair. 

“I am timid,” said Garrett of Cherokee County, whose cheery, confident personality seems in contrast with that self-assessment. “You get me in front of a crowd and I am.”

While serving on the State WLC pushed Garrett out of her comfort zone, it also broadened her view of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s purpose. 

“I learned more about the role of the directors’ work, what an important role it is,” Garrett said. “They’re making serious decisions that affect farmers everywhere.”

Those farmers included her husband, Donnie. He grew cotton and soybeans and was a state board member prior to Garrett’s year as chair. 

Donnie was his wife’s greatest supporter, too. He passed in 2022 after 47 years of marriage.

Today, Garrett juggles work crunching numbers for the farm, serving as assistant clerk for the city of Centre and being “Mims” to grandchildren Beau and Jett. She’s also encouraging daughter Andrea and son-in-law Jeff to craft friendships across commodities, counties and state lines through Federation involvement. 

“You just become one big family,” Garrett said.

One of her fondest Federation family memories included welcoming the State WLC to Centre for the annual planning retreat. The weekend coincided with the local fall festival — and her fellow committee members were set on participating in the parade.

“Donnie got out his antique John Deere tractor and fixed up a trailer with hay. Delle Bean (of Calhoun County) drove the tractor, and we were all in the parade with our Alfa shirts and our little waves,” Garrett remembered with a smile. “Some of the women said it was the best retreat we’d ever had. It was so laid back.”

Cheryl Lassiter, Choctaw County

Cheryl Lassiter, Choctaw County

Cheryl Lassiter was flying solo when she attended her first Women’s Leadership Conference.

But a willingness to laugh, chat and sit with strangers helped her leave that Alabama Farmers Federation meeting with friends from across the state.

“When you’re the only one there from your county, you have to sit with women from different counties,” Lassiter said. “It’s really more fun that way.”

Since those early days of Federation involvement with husband Jeff, the cattle-raising couple has built even deeper relationships with farmer-friends beyond Choctaw County. 

That’s partially thanks to the State WLC, which Lassiter ran for in 2011 once her three daughters were grown. Debbie Freeland from nearby Mobile County encouraged her. Those next six years of service were an honor, Lassiter said.

“I had no idea what to expect. Working in forestry, I didn’t really work with a lot of women,” said Lassiter, who managed a timber company office. “The first meeting, my nerves were out the window. I became friends with all of them. When you meet all these women, it’s like friendships that never end.”

Those friends nominated Lassiter to lead the committee in 2015. As chair, she hit the road attending state board meetings, speaking at events like Ag in the Classroom Summer Institute and representing Alabama during national conventions.

She also refined her take on WLCs’ mission — to encourage, offer fresh perspectives and promote agriculture.

It’s what she still accomplishes through Choctaw County’s small-but-mighty WLC. Members frequently help with ag days and mock interviews for FFA officers. That investment will pay dividends growing the Federation’s family tree, Lassiter said.

“Little things can make a big difference,” she said. “The Farmers Federation has always been a big family for us.”

Jamie Lazenby, Lee County

Jamie Lazenby, Lee County

After six decades married to a cotton farmer, fluffy white lint is Jamie Lazenby’s irrefutable fiber of choice.

Equally undeniable is the leadership woven into the fabric of her life.

“I’m not a follower. I’m a leader,” said Lazenby of Lee County. “I don’t know why, but I’ve always fallen into that role.”

Lazenby’s personality made her a perfect pick when the Lee County Farmers Federation (LCFF) needed a WLC chair in the late ‘70s. She led the group nearly 20 years.

“They kept saying, ‘We will do anything you ask, just please be the chair,’” Lazenby reminisced. “And they did. We got along beautifully.”

Projects focused on helping their community, from food bank donations to collections for women’s shelters. Lazenby’s service went statewide in the ‘90s when she was elected to the Alabama Farmers Federation State WLC.

As State WLC chair in 2000 and 2004, Lazenby developed a passion for promoting conservative candidates. She and husband Harry still welcome politicians to their Lazenby Farms outside Auburn, discussing priorities under century-old pecan trees or in knee-high cotton.

Though daily operations of the farm and their La-Z-Bee gas station have passed to the next generation (they have three children and 10 grandchildren), the Lazenbys remain fixtures at Federation meetings. Lazenby is an Alabama FarmPAC trustee and was LCFF’s first female president, serving from 2019-2023.

She tickles the ivories at Mount Olive Baptist Church, too, only missing for vacations and Federation meetings, she said with a smile.

It’s comical considering Lazenby, who was raised on a farm, never meant to marry a farmer. 

“The Lord knew more than I did,” she said. “Harry often says if I hadn’t married a farmer, I wouldn’t have had all these opportunities. He’s right.”

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