From Fields to Forests, Extension Retiree Plots his New Career Path

Sen. Gene Yaw (left) recently recognized outgoing Penn State Extension Area 3 client relationship manager Mark Madden, who is retiring after more than 29 years of dedicated service.

Submitted Photo/ Story by Rick Hiduk

(originally published in the

After 19 years working for the Penn State Extension, Mark Madden has retired from his role as Client Relationship Manager. He worked out of the Towanda office that serves Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna, and Wyoming counties, but his professionalism and eagerness to share his knowledge garnered him friends and esteemed colleagues from across the state. One might think that Mark would be looking forward to some much-deserved relaxation and even a vacation, but he is already busy planning a new career.

Mark is a 1981 graduate of Towanda High School who shared his father’s love of the outdoors. Frank and Anne Madden came to the area via Centralia in the 1960s, when Frank was hired at Masonite. Frank had a penchant for forest management and immediately got to work at restoring the vitality of 160 acres of woodlands he purchased on Tip Top, the ridge between Asylum and Towanda townships.

When he was 12, Mark attended a Penn State Youth Forestry Camp with about 30 other youths in Stone Valley outside of State College. As Mark neared graduation from high school, he thought seriously about going to school for forestry, but he’d developed an appreciation for friends who worked on generational dairy farms and found himself drawn to agriculture. “I admired the time they put into it and the skill sets they employed,” said Mark. “To be a farmer, you have to be an agronomist, a mechanic, and an accountant, among other things.”

He enrolled at Penn State University and finished with a bachelors degree in agronomy and a minor in environmental resource management. He put himself through school by cutting and selling firewood. Before he graduated, Mark was hired by SULBRA, a membership-based crop management association cooperative for farmers in Sullivan and Bradford counties. Some of the services provided included crop planning, pest control, and yield checks.

My need as a crop consultant would change throughout the year,” he explained. “There are various pests that show up at certain times of the year.” Mark also worked with farmers to calculate risk and investment of time and materials for spending decisions. His work was vital to growers who generally knew what they should be doing but didn’t have the time to do everything well.

For three years, Mark worked for the Bradford County Conservation District as a nutrient management specialist, developing individual best management practices (BMPs) for area farmers, including crop rotation. He was already consulting regularly with Penn State Extension agronomist Al Holman when Al mentioned his own impending retirement and suggested that Mark apply for the post.

I was very interested in the job and was fortunate enough to get the work and enjoyed it immensely.” Mark started with the Extension on January 31, 1994, initially putting in equal time in Bradford and Sullivan counties. He eventually became a client relationship manager for the Extension, which greatly expanded his territory and his ability to make an impact on farming in the region.

He was always helpful in the way that he would explain how things work. He wouldn’t just tell you the answer, he’d explain how and why,” said Jeannette Vannan, the Extension’s administrative assistant for Bradford and Sullivan counties, who worked with Mark in the Towanda office almost daily. “You wouldn’t hesitate to approach him with any question. If he didn’t have the answer, which was rare, he’d research it and get back to you. People knew that they could trust him to give them the answer that would help them, even if it wasn’t the answer that they wanted.”

When asked of some important moments he experienced in his roles with the Penn State Extension, Mark cited the successful promotion of no-till farming through the formation of an advisory committee that included eight ag producers in the Sugar Creek Watershed. “They devised an educational program and a series of agronomy ‘pit stops,’” Madden said of the one-hour meetings conducted during the growing season on specific topics related to farming.

He gives the majority of the credit to the growers who stepped up to coordinate the peer-to-peer activities that led to widespread acceptance of new farming techniques. “They were willing to share their knowledge, their successes and their struggles,” Madden recalled. “It was probably one of the most effective educational programs that I’ve ever been a part of.”

When asked to name some people who made the biggest impressions on him over his Extension career, Madden maintained, “That list is endless. There’s a bunch of people out there who helped me out considerably. This job isn’t done in a vacuum. Each person had a different skill set that they would share.” Mark’s circle of coworkers extended beyond the Endless Mountains and eventually across the entire state.

Mulling over the question once again, however, Mark cited Evie Goff, the office administrator at the Extension office in Montrose when he came on board, as instrumental to his early achievements with the Extension. “She did all the necessary things, sometimes without my knowledge, to help me succeed,” he remarked. “She was a joy to work with, and I credit her for helping me understand my role and how to best get the job done.”

Mark was a very easy person to work with,” Evie stated. “He wanted to do his best for the people that he was working with.”

Sen. Gene Yaw recently presented Mark with a congratulatory citation. “Mark has been a trusted friend and colleague to the 23 rd District for many years,” he stated. “From his time at the Bradford County Conservation District to his nearly three decades of service at the Penn State Extension, I commend him on his many contributions to our region and its residents and wish him all the best in his next chapter.”

In reference to Mark’s “retirement” plans, Evie added, “I know Mark, and I knew he wasn’t going to sit idle. I’m sure that he’s going to stay involved with a lot of different things.”

As a Pennsylvania Forest Stewards (PA FS) volunteer, Mark will be pursuing some initiatives with retired Forest Stewards Steering Committee chair Nancy Baker. “I’m going to work with her to revive the Bradford Sullivan Forest Landowners Association. She was a carter originator and remains a valuable resource.” Through the Association, Mark and Nancy will develop and host public events to share the value of proper forest management and ways to achieve it.”

His new career follows and expands upon Mark’s father’s vision for the property. Frank Madden passed away in March 2020, and his mother resides at the Sayre Personal Care Center.

We’ve planted quite a few trees here. Dad planted a lot,” Mark said of their ongoing efforts of timber stand improvement and routinely adding another 250 trees per year. “Part of my motivation now is to preserve it for my grandchildren.”

Madden plans to start building a wood yard soon and firing up his new DYNA SC-15 tandem axle firewood processor. The 5,800-pound machine can handle 16-foot logs up to 22-inches in diameter and process three full cords of firewood per hour. Eventually, it will be a year-round, weatherproof operation.

Mark intends to sell mostly cured wood unless the buyer prefers to age it. “I want to do what I can to be a reliable supplier,” he stated, “and I plan to carry out the best forest management for as long as I can.” The new business, mK Fuelwood Processing and Sales, is technically a one-man show, but Mark will continue to collaborate with former peers, his wife Kelly, and his heirs.

Photo by Rick Hiduk

Recently retired Penn State Extension administrator Mark Madden unveils the tandem axle firewood processor that will play a large role in his new career.

Submitted Photo

Mark Madden (left) with Troy Fair director Jon Jenkins.

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