June Burke-Forehand will retire from the Statesboro office of USDA Rural Development on Dec. 31, with 23 years of service.
Burke-Forehand started her career in Sylvania as a clerk-typist, and was transferred to Statesboro in 1995. She has risen through the ranks, to the position of area specialist. She has gone from clerical duties, including typing and making carbon copies, to a position where she now determines eligibility for loans, makes inspections, determines property eligibility and approves loans.
“Dean Lewis was my first supervisor and he gave me my first big assignment — to reduce housing loan delinquencies,” Burke-Forehand remembered. “We received a report every month and Sylvania had a pretty high delinquency rate. I took this job very seriously. I wanted Sylvania to be No. 1 in the state and have the lowest delinquency rate. Working with other staff members in the office, we accomplished that goal.”
Burke-Forehand also noted that despite the economic downturn, rural development in the 10-county area serviced by the Statesboro office has experienced very few foreclosures.
“We make good loans,” she said. “We counsel people thoroughly so they know their responsibility to make their mortgage payment a priority.”
Burke-Forehand estimates she’s been involved in more than 1,000 loans over the years, but some stand out more clearly than others.
“Every family is special because without this program, they would not be able to own their own home,” Burke-Forehand said. “But I particularly remember an elderly woman in Effingham County. She had never worked outside the home and then her husband died unexpectedly. She had a 40-year-old disabled daughter living with her. She was able to get a part-time job as a bookkeeper at a hardware store but still could not afford the rent on her apartment. She and her daughter had to move into one room in another daughter’s house.
“It was a very tight squeeze and she was just desperate,” Burke-Forehand continued. “She was in tears through most of the application process. She and her daughter were two of the happiest and most grateful people I’ve ever seen when they got their house. She’s still in the house and current on her loan.”
There are other opportunities to help when implementing the programs in the community. Burke-Forehand and a repair contractor went to a house to meet with an elderly woman about repairs to her home, but couldn’t get anyone to open the door.
“We could hear someone talking and moving about in the house,” she said. “We talked for a long time through the door, and when the woman finally opened it, it was obvious something was wrong. Her speech was slurred, she appeared disoriented, and she didn’t recognize us. We called an ambulance and I learned later that she was suffering from diabetes.”
This wasn’t the only time that Burke-Forehand has called Adult Protective Services to check on elderly homeowners.
Another memorable application came from a resident on Sapelo Island, Georgia’s fourth largest barrier island. Because the state of Georgia owns most of the island and the only way on and off is by a state-run ferry, the application presented many new challenges, including getting a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and getting a contractor to bid on the job.
“It’s wonderful to be able to help someone in that situation,” Burke-Forehand said. “This woman was elderly and very low income, so she qualified. And the house definitely needed a new roof and other repairs. It was very satisfying to work on that project.”
During, her career with the agency, Burke-Forehand was very active in the employee association, serving as president of the Georgia Association of Support Personnel and the National Association of Support Personnel. The Association acted as a liaison between the National Office in Washington, D.C. and employees who worked in local offices throughout the United States.
“This was an extremely rewarding experience because we were able to take the concerns of our co-workers to Washington and actually see some of our ideas implemented,” she said.
June Burke-Forehand was married to David Carlton Burke for 36 years. He passed away in 2002. They had three children and six grandchildren. Her daughter Leigh Ann Lee lives with her husband Stanton and children Justin and Lindsay in Statesboro. Her two sons live in Screven County with their wives and children. David and Sheri Burke have three children – Chase, Joel and Gracen June. Steven and Denise Burke have a daughter, Caroline.
June married Gerry Forehand, mayor of Hiltonia, in 2006. June’s family with Gerry includes Sean and Trista Forehand; Dustin Forehand, Ryan and Heather Forehand and their three children, Lily, Mason and Sadie, and Gerry’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Forehand.
Also in Screven County are June’s brother and sister, Jerry Jones and Janel Thompson.
Burke-Forehand’s first priority for retirement is to spend more time with her grandchildren. She also expects to spend more time as “First Lady of Hiltonia” and expects to work with her husband on the Hiltonia Urban Redevelopment Project. One of the goals is to obtain funding for housing rehabilitation, blight removal and to attract more businesses to Hiltonia.
She was honored by her coworkers at a retirement luncheon on Dec. 10.