Life Stories

Life Stories: Dalla Pozza served a role model for teaching usable skills

CorrespondentMarch 9, 2014 

  • Ada Braswell Dalla Pozza

    Born:Feb. 19, 1922, near the Bethel community in Anson County

    Family: Born one of three daughters. Her father dies when she’s a young teen. She marries Martin Dalla Pozza in 1945, and they have two sons, Martin and Frank. Frank dies from Hodgkin’s disease at age 26, and she is widowed in 1990. She has four grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

    Education: Earns a bachelor’s degree in home economics from UNC-Greensboro, then the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina, in 1943. Later earns a master’s degree in administration at the University of Tennessee.

    Career: First works for the N.C. Cooperative Extension as a volunteer home economics agent in Anson County. Following her degree, she secures a paid position in Union County as the youngest agent in the state. When she returns to North Carolina in the mid-1950s, she briefly teaches home economics in high school before joining the extension office as a local, then district, and eventual state agent in 1969. She retires in 1982.

    Awards: N.C. State University Alumni Association Award of Merit, the N.C. State Grange Woman of the Year, and National Association of Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Distinguished Service Award. She also was named to the N.C. 4-H Hall of Fame and the inaugural class of the N.C. Family and Consumer Sciences Foundation Hall of Fame.

    Dies: Jan. 31

When her father died from leukemia during the Great Depression, Ada Dalla Pozza was a young teen.

The dire economy could be easier on farming families than others – they could at least eat without as much worry. But it was not exactly easy for her, her two sisters and her mother to keep their Anson County farm running.

Like many a rural youngster, she was heavily involved with the local 4-H club. In 1937 she was the state and national dress review champion. She designed and constructed a red plaid floor-length formal dress with matching bolero jacket, along with her own undergarments and pocketbook.

From those beginnings, she went on to build a career around the N.C. Cooperative Extension, an educational outreach partnership of N.C. State University, N.C. A&T State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and county governments. The extension office works with the 4-H program, among other things. And for more than 70 years Dalla Pozza advocated for the program that seeks, to this day, to bring back to the people the gains won by research at the state’s two land-grant universities.

Her focus was empowering women and families to be as self-sufficient as possible. She traveled to people’s homes and taught essential life skills like canning and preserving food. She showed mothers how to keep their food prep sanitary and educated families on budgeting throughout the state. During World War II, soldiers wrote her in thanks for her home-canned pork chops and sausage.

She died Jan. 31 at 91, leaving as a legacy the Ada B. Dalla Pozza Family and Consumer Sciences Association Endowment. Established in 2012, it funds professional development for extension agents throughout North Carolina.

Traveling teacher of skills

Dalla Pozza met her husband, Martin Dalla Pozza, while his National Guard unit was on maneuvers in the Anson County region. By that time she had earned her home economics degree from UNC-Greensboro and was working as an extension agent.

After a long-distance courtship fueled by lots of letter-writing (he was stationed in the Pacific), they wed in 1945 and went on to have two sons. They spent a few years living in her husband’s home turf of New Jersey and in West Germany, before settling back in North Carolina in 1953.

They established a dairy farm in Anson County, and she once again became a home economics extension agent, soon rising to become district agent. In 1969, she was promoted to the post of state agent, and her family moved to Raleigh.

Son Martin Dalla-Pozza of Wilmington said that ironically, his mother didn’t demonstrate her domestic prowess at home as often as one might think. She was too busy teaching others, often traveling throughout the western part of the state.

‘Always liked to help people’

Dalla Pozza proved a natural educator, colleagues say. She was a News & Observer Tar Heel of the Week in 1980.

“I’ve always liked to help people,” she told the N&O reporter. “With my background, I could appreciate how a family’s resources have to sometimes go to the farm instead of the home. I could help a wife understand when her husband needed the money for a new silo rather than adding a long-awaited bathroom.”

Part of her job was enlightening folks that certain, long-held beliefs, even superstitions, were just not true. She had to combat the old wives tale that aspirin preserved food in home canning. “What is more important in today’s inflationary times,” she asked that reporter, “([than] to help a family use their resources more wisely?”

When she took on a more administrative role, her ability to organize and see her vision come to life was evident immediately. She helped organize both the N.C. Family and Consumer Sciences Foundation and the N.C. Extension and Community Association Foundation, which have raised millions for the family programs that she helped build.

“She made everything fun,” said longtime friend and colleague Betsy Meldau. “She could read folks like a book – and did.”

Other initiatives included the “University Days of Wheels,” program, field trips that bused women as far as New England to learn everything from mushroom farming to international trade. She also led a tour of women to United Nations headquarters throughout Europe.

In 1974, her group arrived at the U.N. on the same day as Yasser Arafat, the late head of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Hers was the only group to clear security that day.

Self-sufficient to the end

The year she retired, homemakers across the state raised funds to name an area of N.C. State’s McKimmon Center for Extension and Continuing Education in her honor. In the 1960s, Dalla Pozza played a part in raising the $100,000 that went to fund the center, said Wilma Hammett, executive director of the Family and Consumer Sciences Foundation and Extension and Community Association.

After her retirement, Dalla Pozza made sure to organize an annual extension dinner that allowed past extension agents to be brought up to speed on what was happening throughout the state.

To this day, she’s thought of as “Ms. Ada” by extension agents who might not have been born before she retired.

Her drive to remain self-sufficient was evident until the end, Martin Dalla Pozza said. His mother had her finances in order and lived independently until the last week of her life.

“When you stop and you look back at it over the years, it was like she wanted to make sure she was taken care of and she didn’t want to depend on anybody.”

News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this story.

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