The following Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) retirees were honored with a reception hosted by the MSU Extension Director’s Office and Epsilon Sigma Phi (ESP) and a luncheon hosted by President Simon on Tuesday, April 13, at the Kellogg Center: Phil Alexander, Mona Ellard, Christine Gehring, Larry Hamm, Cyndi Mark, Connie (Theunick) Perley, Jim Wiesing and Paul Wylie. I’d like to share some of the biographic sketches of each individual with you here. I’ve enjoyed working with each person and regret the tremendous experience that we’re losing with their retirements. Even so, I wish each one a healthy and prosperous retirement from MSU.
Philip (“Phil”) Alexander, Otsego County, began his Extension career in 1984. He has been a district tourism agent for 21 counties and the Otsego County Extension director. Phil wrote several Extension publications, was the longest serving member of the National Extension Tourism Committee, and pioneered a learning process that eventually became the Area of Expertise teams. Phil’s most recent accomplishment was compiling an historical account “Learning a Living: 90 Years of Extension Work in Otsego County.”
Mona J. Ellard, Eaton County, received her B.S. from Western Michigan University and her M.A. in education from Michigan State University. She joined the Eaton County MSU Extension office as a home economist in 1982, becoming the county Extension director there in 1997, a position she held until retirement. As county Extension director, she used a positive managerial style, and during her tenure, she was able to increase funding and staff in the Eaton County Extension office through her networking and grant-writing skills. A member of Michigan County Extension Agents, Michigan Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and Epsilon Sigma Phi, she has received numerous awards, including the National Distinguished Service Award, the Public Relations Award and the Epsilon Sigma Phi Visionary Leadership Award. Her achievements were also recognized locally with the Liberty Bell award from the Eaton County Bar Association and the Athena Award from the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
Christine (“Chris”) Gehring, Benzie County, joined Extension in 1995 working in the Benzie County office with the Family Nutrition Program. In 1998, she became a Family and Consumer Sciences Extension educator and then served as interim Benzie County Extension director from 2002 to 2003. Beginning in 2004, Chris moved to the regional office in Traverse City as North Region Family Nutrition program coordinator until her retirement. Most of her work involved nutrition and parenting education programs.
Larry G. Hamm, professor, Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, actually retired from his Extension responsibilities several years ago and moved into a different role in his home department. Although he’s not been directly in the MSUE family for a few years, I wanted to recognize his earlier contributions to MSUE. Dr. Hamm served as an Extension specialist in Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE). He was an outstanding Extension professional who channeled his expertise in industry organizations to the dairy and food processing industries and continued to provide that service while he served as department chairperson from 1992–2002. He also provided valuable leadership to the overall Extension mission for his department in his capacity as department chair. Since stepping down as chair in 2002, he took on the primary leadership role for the Food Industry Management major in AFRE and reinvented himself to become one of the department’s best undergraduate teachers. He broke new ground by incorporating information technology and social networking into his instructional scholarship, reflecting well on his years as an innovative Extension professional.
Cynthia (“Cyndi”) B. Mark, Children, Youth, Families and Communities (CYFC), received her B.S. degree from Eastern Michigan University and her M.S. and Ph.D. from Michigan State University. She joined MSU Extension in 1980 as a 4-H youth agent in Ingham County and the State 4-H Office in 1984. Holding increasingly responsible positions within Michigan 4-H Youth Programs and MSU Extension, including interim state leader for 4-H Youth Development from 1998 to June 1999, her most recent position was as CYFC coordinating program leader for leadership, citizenship and service. She received numerous awards including the 2009 MSU Extension Specialist and State Staff Award and the 2010 MSU Distinguished Academic Staff Award, and also awards from the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Agents and the Michigan Association of Extension 4-H Youth Staff.
After graduating from Michigan State University with an English degree in 1974, Connie (Theunick) Perley, Lake County, began her MSU Extension career as a 4-H program assistant in Osceola County. Demonstrating her strong youth development skills, Connie moved into an area 4-H agent role in 1982, serving Osceola, Misssaukee, Wexford and Mecosta counties. Connie also served as an area 4-H agent for Osceola, Lake, Mecosta and Clare counties, while concurrently serving as acting county Extension director in both Gladwin and Lake counties. In 1990 Connie was appointed the Eaton County 4-H agent, and served in that position for two years before becoming the Lake County Extension director, a position she held for 17 years until retiring. There, she initiated a number of community and economic development initiatives, including establishment of the Lake County Enterprise Community.
James (“Jim”) Wiesing, Grand Traverse County, graduated from the University of Missouri with a B.S. in business administration and holds an M.S. in Extension education from Michigan State University. In 1983 he was appointed deputy county executive for Bay County, a position he held until he joined MSU Extension in 1989. Jim has been Grand Traverse County Extension director since 1992. He also served as statewide co-chair of the MSU Community Development Team and is past president of the MSUE Community and Natural Resource Development Association. He was the principal investigator and program leader for grants that created the Citizen Planner and Building Strong Sovereign Nations programs for MSUE and is a member of the MSU Land Use, Economic Development, and Leadership teams. Prior to his appointment in Grand Traverse County, he was the district Extension agent for local government assistance in northern Michigan and the Ogemaw County Economic development agent. Jim has served on the Executive Board of the Rural Development Council of Michigan; USDA Extension National Management Team, Communities in Economic Transition; Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Initiative; New Designs for Growth; Affordable Housing Task Force, Northwest Michigan Poverty Reduction Initiative and recently addressed state and national conferences for Michigan Association of Counties, National Association of Counties, Michigan Association of Planning and USDA. He has received numerous awards including two Epsilon Sigma Phi Diversity Awards, the ESP State Team Award, the Raymond D. Vlasin Award for Program Excellence and the Innovative Program Award for Building Strong Sovereign Nations.
Paul Wylie, Allegan County, received his B.S. in agriculture from Lincoln University and his M.S. in poultry science from the University of Missouri. He has worked in agriculture for 38 years. Paul came to the Allegan County MSU Extension office as an agricultural agent in 1987 and became the county Extension director there in 2008, a position he held until retirement. Recognized as an excellent educator, both in the classroom and in the field, Paul has specialized in commercial and small flock poultry, field crops, environmental management and pesticide applicator training. He has written numerous newsletter articles, tip sheets and a bulletin on building good neighbor relations for animal farmers. Paul’s ability to quickly assess technical information and relate it to clientele needs built strong relationships with farmers, agencies and agribusinesses. He is a member and past treasurer of the Michigan Association of Extension Agents, a member and past chair of the MSU Poultry Team, a member of the MSU Field Crops Team, the MSU Christmas Tree Team and the MSU Animal Agriculture and Environment Team. In 2005 he received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of County Agriculture Agents.