The Shack

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The Shack
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The Shack
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In the middle of Starkville, behind a tailored home with shaded drive and weaving sidewalk, sits an old sharecropper shack. Not exactly what you would expect to find all the way over in a hill country city. But the shack, with its thin front porch and short, stone chimney, is an honest-to-goodness Delta hut.

As out of place as it seems, though, the one-room, wooden house is right where it needs to be.

The old shack is a museum of sorts; a tribute, if you will, to the history and change in the region’s farming industry and to one of the giants of men in the southeastern, even global, cotton scene.

It’s filled with old farming tools and out-of-use crop chemicals. And above the mantel sits a portrait of a man standing in a field of gloriously white cotton.

“In the world of cotton, he was a rock star,” wrote Hembree Brandon, a long-time colleague of the late George Mullendore.

Mullendore was a cotton specialist with the Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service from 1963 to 1989, working as a middleman between the researchers at the Extension and the farmers. Whatever new species or chemicals were coming out, it was his job to let the farmers know what they were and which ones were the best.

Over time, his vast knowledge and special charisma gained him a following among farmers and earned him international recognition.

There wasn’t a cotton-growing region in the world that Mullendore hadn’t visited, Brandon wrote. And whether it was Arkansas or Africa, talking one-on-one or to a group of a thousand, Mullendore was passionate about cotton.

And it was that passion and personality that made him so good at what he did, said Mike Mullendore, George Mullendore’s son.

In 1992, George was named the program coordinator for the Mississippi Boll Weevil Management Corporation. The weevil had plagued farmers throughout the country for years, and a new eradication program was being implemented in different states. But before the program could be started in a state, the farmers had to vote for its approval.

That’s where George came in, Mullendore said. He had the relationships and expertise needed to get the word out to the farmers and convince them that this program would be beneficial for the state. The program passed in 1994, and for the past five years, Mississippi has been boll weevil free.

The biggest accomplishment of his career, though, Mullendore said, would be his work in educating farmers about how to better deal with the plant bug. When George managed to convince growers that if they started spraying for the plant bug earlier in the season it would save money, it ended up saving them $9 billion.

The 1987 Cotton Grower magazine featured George and his efforts with the plant bug. And the issue’s cover is one of the many recognitions and awards hanging on the walls of what Mrs. Mullendore simply calls “George’s Shack.”

The hut, although small, is chock full of books, papers, knick-knacks and pictures. Mrs. Mullendore points out various items that commemorate the history of cotton and farming and the legacy of George, who passed away in November of last year.

An old cotton scale hangs over an antique plantation desk, while photos and paintings of cotton harvesters hang near the fireplace. A rusted can of “50% wettable DDT” from the bygone days of farming sits on the bookshelf. And a pocket magnifying glass is tucked beside some books.

George always kept one of these with him when he visited cotton fields, Mrs. Mullendore said. It helped him inspect the plants.

Monday through Friday, George spent his time out on the farms, riding the single and double-lane roads talking with farmers. After criss-crossing the farms for years, George decided he wanted to bring a piece of them back to his own home.

He put the word out that if anyone wanted to get rid of an old sharecropper shack, he would take it, Mrs. Mullendore said. It wasn’t long before someone offered him five shacks and an old shop. George and his son disassembled the buildings in Washington County and used the wood to rebuild a shack in the back yard.

It became his office and hangout. He read countless articles and journals at his desk. And on countless nights, he and some Extension colleagues would retreat to the shack after meetings for a game of spades and “milk and cookies,” Mrs. Mullendore said with a grin.

The shack was a giant memento of the job he loved, filled with souvenirs from the industry’s history and the places it took him. Even though George has passed, Mrs. Mullendore plans to stay in the house and keep the shack.

For the rest of the family, not just George, it is still a good memento.

Story by Natalie Richardson // Photo by Renee Reedy

 

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