PORTLAND - Ray McNeilan, the guiding force behind the Oregon State University Extension Service's popular Master Gardener program, has retired ending a 32-year career as an Extension educator.

A noted garden writer as well as a teacher, McNeilan became a horticulture agent with the OSU Extension Service in 1958 following completion of his master's degree in ornamental horticulture at OSU. He has remained with the university since, except for a five-year period during the 1970s when he worked in the commercial nursery industry.

Following his stint in the private sector, McNeilan rejoined the OSU Extension Service in 1977, the year after the OSU Extension Master Gardener program began in Oregon. He became statewide coordinator of the program in 1983 and is credited with helping the program succeed and expand.

"We started with about 50 people in the program back in the late 1970s," McNeilan said. "At present, the program is offered in 26 of the state's 36 counties and we have over 3,000 Oregonians participating."

The Master Gardener program offers instruction on home gardening in return for "payback" hours of volunteer service by participants who help OSU Extension agents disseminate gardening information to the general public.

"The OSU Extension Master Gardener program has been and continues to be one of our most popular volunteer programs," said Lyla Houglum, director of the OSU Extension Service. "Ray McNeilan's leadership and enthusiasm will be missed."

McNeilan said he believes one of his important accomplishments through the Master Garden program was making Oregonians more resource conscious.

"Particularly in recent years, Master Gardeners have worked to increase overall awareness of the importance of resource management in home gardens," said McNeilan. "Soil and water resources are not infinite. Understanding that is the first step towards learning new and better ways to manage resources."

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Ray McNeilan, 503-725-2031