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Published: Saturday, 6/13/2009

Teacher active in the work of electric co-ops

DELTA, Ohio - Shirley A. Farnsworth, 73, a former schoolteacher who became a leader in rural electric cooperatives, died of cancer Monday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Toledo.

Mrs. Farnsworth, of Fulton County's Swan Creek Township, was elected in 1991 as a trustee of the Tricounty Rural Electric Cooperative Inc., in Malinta, Ohio, representing her geographic district in the cooperative's service area, which includes parts of Fulton, Henry, Lucas, Putnam, and Wood counties.

Trustees are limited to three four-year terms, and she served until 2003. She was president from 1995-2003.

"Shirley - anything she had a passion for, she gave it her all," said Phil Parsons, general manager of Tricounty since 1986, who earlier served more than seven years as a trustee.

She was elected by her trustee colleagues to represent Tricounty on the board of Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives in Columbus from 1994-2003. She was state board secretary-treasurer in 1998 and 1999.

She attended national rural electric cooperatives legislative meetings in Washington and was sergeant-at-arms for four of them, Mr. Parsons said. She also was chaperone for state cooperatives-sponsored trips to Washington by young people.

She had a strong advocate in her husband, James, who was a Tricounty trustee in the late 1970s.

"Jim always made the comment that Shirley would make an excellent trustee, and she did. He was 100 percent right," Mr. Parsons said.

She went door-to-door in a virtually unprecedented two-month campaign for the seat. And she invited the people she met to come to the cooperative's annual meeting, where members - the electric customers, that is - elect trustees.

About 700 members attended. Most previous meetings attracted several hundred fewer, Mr. Parsons said. Many annual meetings thereafter drew about 600.

"A lot of that was due to Shirley," Mr. Parsons said.

Several traits made her a good leader, her husband said.

"She was very strict, and when she said something, you'd better listen because she was pretty sharp," her husband said.

Her daughter Antoinette Bloomer said: "She was feisty. She was a woman of great strength. She cared deeply about people."

Mrs. Farnsworth grew up in DeGraff, Ohio, and was a 1953 graduate of high school there. She received a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Bowling Green State University.

She and her husband met on a blind date. As he dropped her off at her dorm, he said, "Give me a call. We're going to be married when you're ready," he said last night. "About a year later she called and said, 'I'm ready.'•"

She did her student teaching in the Swanton schools and did some substitute teaching in the district before she was hired to teach primary grades.

After a year, she taught early grades in Delta, which after consolidation became part of Pike-Delta-York Local Schools. She was on staff full time for about a year, but was a substitute for another five years, her husband said.

In the 1970s, she helped begin the summertime education program for children of migrant farmworkers.

On the Farnsworth farm, she had about 10 garden spots where she planted flowers, her husband said.

She also made rings, bracelets, and other jewelry, which she gave as gifts, her daughter said.

The couple spent time every year at their winter home in Sun City Center, Fla.

Surviving are her husband, James Farnsworth, whom she married Aug. 7, 1955; daughters, Betsy Jaynes and Antoinette Bloomer; sisters, Antoinette Musser, Martha Mohr, and Marilyn Guthrie, and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. today at Crossroads Evangelical Church, Wauseon, where she was a member. Arrangements are by the Barnes Funeral Chapel, Delta, Ohio.

The family suggests tributes to Crossroads Evangelical Church, Wauseon, or Delta United Methodist Church.



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