Celebrating the past by telling the stories of those we serve

The year 1914 was a momentous one in the history of the United States and the world, one whose impacts still resonate today. The Panama Canal opened for business as an important conduit of commerce, contributing to the development of global economic connectivity. The Model T assembly line opened in Dearborn, Michigan, signaling a large step in manufacturing technology. Norman Borlaug, an agriculturalist and humanist whose work led to the “Green Revolution,” was born on a farm near Cresco, Iowa. A Serbian assassin took the lives of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Duchess Sophie, initiating the series of conflicts that became “The Great War.”

In Washington, D.C., Congress and President Woodrow Wilson established the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve System and they even declared Mother’s Day an official federal holiday. President Wilson spent much of the year trying to keep the United States out of the conflicts that were escalating in Europe. But among all of those activities, there was one more piece of legislation that passed that is particularly important to us, the Smith-Lever Act. On May 8, President Wilson signed this legislation authored by a Georgia senator (Hoke Smith) and a South Carolina congressional representative (Asbury Lever), creating the Cooperative Extension System. Like the Panama Canal, the Ford production line along the Rouge River and the contributions of science to feeding the world’s people, the Cooperative Extension System remains in existence today. More importantly, it continues to address the needs of families, farms, businesses and communities by helping them to apply knowledge from the latest scientific research to the challenges they face each day.

In the year ahead, we want to take advantage of the opportunity to celebrate our legacy – 100 years of Cooperative Extension in Michigan – and the future that we will create from that legacy. In some respects, a moment like this gives us an opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate the many Extension professionals who have preceded us and given us an organization that is unique in the way it translates the assets of a great university into practical knowledge that changes people’s lives. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect upon and celebrate the people we and our predecessors have served. In trying to find ways to celebrate our legacy while projecting that legacy forward, I would like to suggest a special project that we could carry out in 2014.

Quite simply, the point of the project would be to focus on the stories of the people we serve today as a way of telling the story of Michigan State University (MSU) Extension. I will be sharing more details about the project on our MSU Extension webinar on Monday, Dec. 16. I encourage you to join us for that webinar so we can benefit from your thoughts and insights about how we can conduct this project. I will also welcome volunteers who are eager to help us carry out this project. As we prepare for 2014, let’s consider this the beginning of a year of celebration that can help extend knowledge and appreciation for our 100 years of service to the people of Michigan.

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