About half of the staff know me from my past history with Michigan State University Extension and half do not. For those who do not, I’d like to introduce myself. And maybe some of you who already know me will learn something new.
Both agriculture and MSU Extension are a huge part of my life. I was born on a Michigan Centennial Farm in Tuscola County. A farm is honored with the title of Centennial Farm if it’s continuously owned by one family for at least 100 years, consists of at least 10 acres and is actively producing farm products. Our farm originated in 1882 when my great-grandfather came to the Thumb from Canada. The farm is still in the family. In fact, two generations still live on the farm today. The fields are rented out but the family is still active in making maple syrup. Just as when I was a young person with 4-H projects, my nieces and nephews are active in 4-H, raising animals on this farm. Extension was with me at the beginning, influencing and educating me through 4-H.
I received a bachelor’s in home economics from Central Michigan University in 1974, and I taught home economics for two years. All the while, I had my eye on a career in Extension. My brothers, who both attended MSU, told me I would never get an Extension job unless I graduated from MSU. I proved them wrong when I obtained a half-time position with Extension in 1976. Two years later, the half-time position became full-time in Osceola and Wexford counties. Four years later, I became Osceola county Extension director. At the time, not too many women were county Extension directors. In 1988, I earned a master’s in adult and continuing education at MSU.
We in Extension as in all organizations are no stranger to change. In 1989, Extension was experiencing change, and I became regional supervisor, working out of my house, working under a string of interim directors. In 1993, because of more changes, I needed to reapply for the position of regional director and my office was moved to Grand Rapids.
In 2001, Dean Bill Taylor and President Peter McPherson asked me to be interim Extension director for 6 months. The interim title was dropped and I stayed on as director of Extension till 2005. I went back to Grand Rapids and completed my career as an Extension specialist and consultant. My formal retirement took place in 2008. However, as you know, I’m back again as your interim director.
I’m an active Master Gardener. My husband, Dick, is as well, and loves to staff the statewide MSU Extension Lawn and Garden Hotline. He takes this role very seriously and even I need to wait if he’s busy on the hotline.
My 4-H experience did not end when I grew up. Today, the whole family and I share an interest and love of 4-H. Dick is a 4-H rabbit club leader. My son, Dan, was active in 4-H and the International Farm Youth Exchange, which gave him the opportunity to spend time in Germany.
In August 2009, Dick and I along with Jerry and Merry Malfroid launched the Kent County 4-H Endowment Campaign “Growing 4-H Forever.” In spring 2011, Dick and I hosted an event at our home, which built the fund to the minimum Michigan 4-H Foundation‒required endowment investment of $10,000. Unfortunately, both Jerry and Merry were lost to cancer, but the fund grew as people remembered both of them in memorial gifts. In four short years, these gifts plus a generous contribution from Merry’s estate, along with other annual gifts, have built the endowment to more than $60,000. The Michigan 4-H Foundation will now match $50,000 of that total to create an endowment fund that – after the foundation’s contribution – will have a gift total of $110,000. The endowment fund is a perpetual, permanent asset of the Michigan 4-H Foundation for long-term support of Kent County 4-H. See this Michigan 4-H Foundation Vantage article (on page 2) for details: http://www.mi4hfdtn.org/vantage/2011/2011fallvantage.pdf as well as this follow-up article: http://www.mi4hfdtn.org/vantage/2013/2013fallvantage.pdf (also on page 2).
One of the things I liked best in my role as an Extension educator was the variety of things I was able to work on. I enjoyed working with families living in low-income situations, helping them to develop their potential and find their best talents to solve their own problems. One of the ways we accomplished this was through a program called Mothers of Messy Siblings in which we worked with mothers of young children. These women were often trapped by their situations or even abused. They often were creative and talented, and we helped them find their voices, express their leadership and develop life skills. Some of the best work of my life!
As a county Extension director, I was able to work on programs that involved the community as a whole. For example, one of the programs I was involved in was a community development project in which Extension initiated the collaboration of a variety of local groups to create a mile-long linear park along the Hersey River. This later spun off to several regional trail-head developments.
As regional director, I was involved in regional land-use redevelopment projects from both the rural and the urban perspective. We worked holistically before it was cool!
Extension enabled me to learn and grow and do ‒ all at the same time. I can’t think of a better career fit for me. Extension is an open door to continuous professional development.
As director, I still get charged up about Extension initiatives, the creative opportunities to reach people. I’ll always think of myself as an educator no matter what title I hold. I hope that’s true of everyone in Extension.
As you can tell from my story, my whole family and I not only bleed green but we also bleed Extension. That’s the reason I came back and I’m honored to be back in my role once again.