In January 2019, Blayne Arthur was appointed the first female secretary of agriculture in the state of Oklahoma. A lifelong proponent of and participant in 4-H and Future Farmers of America, Arthur brings a unique perspective to the position as she recalls life skills learned through student agriculture programs and watches her two children follow in her footsteps.
Arthur’s focus on supporting and encouraging Oklahoma youth also stems from nearly three years as executive director of the Oklahoma 4-H Foundation, where she worked closely with student officers and ambassadors throughout the state to share how 4-H programs provide students with leadership development, skill building and career opportunities.
A farmer and rancher herself, Arthur acutely understands the needs of her constituents, thanks to a childhood spent on a farm in Chickasha and now operating a farm and business with husband Jerrod, providing show cattle for students in 4-H and FFA.
Arthur’s humble, passionate spirit combined with big-picture vision and leadership marked by character and conviction serve those she guides well, both in her profession and as a mom. Arthur’s own mom reveled in motherhood while also breaking barriers in her career.
A veterinarian at a time when there weren’t many females in the industry, Dr. Margaret “Peggy” Clark was working for the Department of Agriculture when she died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building. Arthur was 13 years old, the middle of 15- and 6-year-old sisters. Today, Arthur carries her mother’s business card alongside her own, bearing the same institution, marveling at the beauty of that circle.
“One of the vets that worked with her here gave me the card, which is so special,” said Arthur. “I wonder if she had any idea her kids would be invested in agriculture, too.”
Though just completing her first year as Oklahoma’s secretary of agriculture, Arthur has long been lauded by her professional peers as an expert in the industry, named Oklahoma’s 2014 Agricultural Woman of the Year and 2019 Ag Person of the Year.
As Oklahoma’s secretary of agriculture, Arthur serves as chief advisor to Gov. Kevin Stitt on policy development and implementation related to agricultural, forestry and food issues. Her days vary drastically, meeting with commodity groups like the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association or Oklahoma Pork Council to discuss policy issues, hosting guests from other states or countries who want to learn about agriculture in Oklahoma, working with staff to make processes more efficient or visiting farmers and ranchers across the state to talk about their operations, better understand challenges and consider new opportunities. Those personal conversations are one of her favorite parts of the job.
“Whether it’s weather that people are dealing with or animal health, that’s what I see at home every day, too,” said Arthur. “I think a lot of people have the idea that we sit in an office in Oklahoma City and make rules and regulations, but I understand how challenging being in production agriculture can be. When we make decisions at the agency or state, that gives me perspective.”
Arthur’s greatest vision is to create new income opportunities for agriculture producers and rural Oklahomans. New markets could help level out extreme ups and downs for farmers and ranchers, who suffer challenges like population decline, weather, trade issues and commodity prices. But change never comes as quickly as those hoping to create it would like.
“State government is a big boat that is hard to turn,” said Arthur. “There are reasons we have a lot of checks and balances in state government, but you see this end goal you want to get to and the hurdles are a little more difficult to navigate than you hoped they would be.”
Arthur remains hopeful in the momentum behind positioning Oklahoma as a top 10 state in agriculture, and she’s grateful to have a front row seat.
“As a young 4-H member in Grady County, I never thought I could be secretary of agriculture,” said Arthur. “I have had a lot of people give me some great opportunities that led me to the position I am in now, providing building blocks that, at the time, I probably didn’t understand the importance of fully.”
From learning leadership development, public speaking and team building skills in 4-H and FFA to networking opportunities gained at Oklahoma State University and an earlier job at the Department of Agriculture where she explored the political side of agriculture and agribusiness, Arthur is quick to remember all those who have afforded her opportunities to pursue her dreams. And she’s intent on passing it forward, creating the first Ag Youth Council, through which 20 high school seniors spend a year as interns at the Department of Agriculture, learning about state government and agribusiness.
While both Arthur and husband Jerrod have demanding careers, they are purposeful in declaring their faith and family come first. Sometimes that intentionality takes daily realignment as the Arthurs hit the ground running every morning.
Arthur has learned to focus on individual 24-hour periods rather than getting overwhelmed by what the week or month may bring, which has brought some peace into an often chaotic schedule.
The family’s first priority each morning is feeding and caring for their livestock. That work is coveted family time, with some of Arthur’s favorite family memories involving cleaning up the pens in the barn or putting out feed.
“That doesn’t mean I’m always excited about it,” laughs Arthur. “But the barn can be therapeutic for me. I can put everything else away, focus on the sounds and smells of the barn and being outside.”
The benefits her kids have received from family chores to their endeavors in 4-H have been innumerable.
“I’m glad our children have the opportunity to see from the ag world you have to stay with it until the job is done for the day,” said Arthur of one of her favorite lessons.
Even with differing personalities and interests, Kelton, 11, and Kennedy, 7, have each found a niche in 4-H, which offers more than 70 project areas for kids across the state. Besides agriculture and showing livestock, kids can pursue photography, robotics and public speaking.
“There’s not a certain mold for kids to fit into, which I think is the best part,” said Arthur. “Through leadership, goal setting and teamwork, kids can find something they are passionate about.”
For Arthur, that personal development has made a lifelong impact, and she’s enjoying watching her kids follow in her footsteps.
“When they work on their speeches or are prepping for demonstrations or livestock events, it’s very rewarding for me,” said Arthur. “That is my greatest joy, seeing my kids have those successes.”
Along with her dad David Spencer and sisters Rosslyn Biggs and Chelsea Evans, Arthur has been purposeful in keeping her mom’s memory alive, especially for the grandchildren who never met their grandmother.
“Everyone handles loss in different ways, and for our family we have always tried to talk about her, how fortunate we were as children to have her for our mom, how she impacted the community and the work she did as a veterinarian,” said Arthur.
Her mom’s influence is with her constantly, Arthur especially remembering her steadfastness and work ethic. Clark wasn’t deterred from pursuing her professional dreams, and Arthur draws from that.
“More often than not, in meetings I’m the only female at the table,” said Arthur. “I’m so glad I learned from my mom that that’s OK.”
Arthur’s family has remained involved with the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and she currently serves on the conscience committee, a group of survivors and family members who offer the staff perspective on keeping the story relevant for new generations. The group was involved in discussions about the OKC Thunder’s new city jerseys in remembrance of the 25th anniversary, bearing nods to the memorial, and instrumental in the dedication of jerseys to each of the individuals lost in the bombing. Along with 167 others, Arthur’s son proudly held his grandmother’s jersey high on the Thunder court the night they were presented.
“We want people to see that out of something so tragic for so many of us, there has been good that’s come from it,” said Arthur. “We’re not going to let that tragedy and people who negatively impact our world write the story.”
A group of Arthur’s family and friends participates in the Memorial Marathon every year, and though emotional, Arthur calls it a happy day for her. She is humbled and moved by the time, effort and intentionality memorial staff pour into the race, museum and education programs. As technology has evolved, so have learning opportunities for the next generation.
“They are passionate that we not forget the story, and they’re always thinking creatively to remember those lost that day, for which I’m so appreciative,” said Arthur. “That message — that violence is not the answer — is what we will continue to focus on and find ways to share.”
Though neither Arthur nor her mom would likely credit themselves with shattering glass ceilings, their accomplishments in agriculture, for Oklahoma, as moms and for the next generation will make lifelong differences for those whose lives they’ve touched. Both have been committed to lifting others up, dedicated to serving their state, community and family.
“Being a parent is the most important job I have but some days it’s incredibly challenging,” said Arthur. “Moms are doing all they can on a daily basis to keep all the plates spinning. I just want other moms to know they are doing good work, raising good kids and good community members for this state and for our country.”
Editor’s note: For more on how the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum has made use of evolving technology to teach the next generation, read this article.