Listening to past employees’ stories, it’s safe to say they had a good time — and learned a lot — while working for Jackson County Extension Service.
Carolyn Gordon remembers sharing information about Extension with the public through a cable news program in Seymour.
Byron Fagg spent most of his time with youth, taking them to 4-H camp in Brownstown and Brown County, 4-H Roundup at Purdue University and Junior Leader trips to Nashville, Tennessee, Cincinnati and St. Louis.
Mary Alice Sharp was invited to do a radio program to talk about Extension, but once she was there she learned she was going to talk about asparagus. That turned into something she looked forward to every year.
Nina Hackman learned a lot by listening to her co-workers answer people’s questions on the phone.
For the past 100 years, agents and educators at the local office in the Jackson County Courthouse in Brownstown have helped the public by answering questions and conducting educational programs.
The annual meeting Tuesday night at the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour was a time to reflect on a century of service.
“One of the great things about being in Extension is there’s so much information available in so many ways,” said Gordon, who spent 31 years with the organization, including serving as a consumer and family sciences educator and district director.
Cooperative extension services were established in 1914 through the Smith-Lever Act. Offices are connected to land-grant universities, and their purpose is to educate people about agriculture, home economics, government, leadership, 4-H, economic development and other topics.
Jackson County’s organization started in 1915 after approval from the county council. A.D. Cobb was the first agent. Since then, 23 people have served as agents or educators.
Richard Beckort, county Extension director and agricultural/natural resources educator, said the office receives federal support from the Department of Agriculture, state support from the General Assembly and county support from the Jackson County Council.
Past employees have made the operation work, too, he added.
Gordon said doing the television program was a new experience for her, but it was a great way to inform the public about Extension.
She said the best part about it was receiving feedback from viewers. One time while attending an event in Columbus, she met a woman who recognized her from the TV program and told her she inspired her to run for mayor.
“It’s great when people share with you how a small thing that you gave them made a difference in their life,” Gordon said. “It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to do that.”
Fagg was introduced to Extension by serving as a trainee in Jasper County while he was a student at Purdue. He wound up spending 22½ years with Extension, including more than six years as a youth educator in Jackson County.
Fagg said it has been neat to see what those kids grew up to do with their lives.
“It felt good teaching,” he said. “It was a learning experience. Every day was another opportunity to learn, and I was so blessed to have the kids that I had to work with.”
Sharp spent 20 years with Extension, including 14 years splitting her time between Jackson and Washington counties. Her areas of focus were 4-H and home economics.
She has fond memories of working with 4-H youth and leading a variety of programs for adults, including Women’s Financial Information Workshop and Who Gets Grandma’s Yellow Pie Plate, which helped families learn how to divide inheritance.
Sharp also worked with people at a homeless shelter to help them get back on their feet. She said she learned from that experience, too.
“I see two or three of them out there occasionally that did make a go, and I feel good about that, that ‘Oh, it did click’ and ‘Do they really change their lives after they get on their feet again?’ Yes, they do,” she said.
Another program was “How to Have a Healthy Baby,” in which Sharp worked with teenage mothers.
“I’ve got two or three moms that have come to me and want me to meet their child that they were pregnant with when they went through the class,” Sharp said.
“In some ways, it makes me feel old when I see how old (the children) are,” she added, laughing. “But in other ways, it makes me feel good that (the mothers) took to heart the things they needed to do to have a healthy pregnancy.”
Sharp said she wouldn’t trade her time with Extension for anything.
“It’s really a good program, and I hope people realize Extension is out there for them,” she said. “It’s something that is for everyone in the community. It’s not just farmers or Extension Homemakers or just 4-H. It’s for everyone.”
Hackman was an office manager for nearly 22 years and said it was fun and educational at work every day.
“I felt like by the time I worked there 22 years, I could have a degree in horticulture or a degree in home economics,” she said with a smile.
Hackman retired in 2011, but she said she frequently returned to the office and had to wean herself away from it.
“Now, I don’t show up so much anymore,” she joked. “I loved it so much. It was just a joy to go there. It was an education every day. Besides, everyone was just like family. Anything that happened to one happened to all of us. It was just always a pleasure. I loved every minute of it.”
Extension has been responsible for educating people in Jackson County with research-based, unbiased information for 100 years, and Beckort said that will continue.
“If you see that there is a need that we can help you with, it might not be an exact fit on what our specialties are, but we can find the people to help answer those questions, find that resource or information that you need,” he said. “We are here, taxpayers are paying for us, and I tell everybody, ‘You might as well use us.’ We want to get more people to use our services.”
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Former Jackson County Extension Service agents/educators
Charles Yeager;1956-1958, 1963-1983
Pam Hess Baker;1986-2012
Mary Alice Sharp;1996-2010
Richard Beckort, who started in 1989, is the county Extension director and agricultural/natural resources educator.
Lauren Neuenschwander, who started in 2011, is the health and human sciences/food and nutrition educator.
Amy Nierman, who started in 2013, is the 4-H/youth educator.
Also, Karen Wagoner is the family nutrition program assistant, Madge Warren is the office manager, and Amber Miller is the secretary.
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The mission of Purdue Cooperative Extension Service is the education of Indiana citizens through application of land-grant university research and knowledge base to develop youth and strengthen agriculture, families and communities.
The Jackson County Extension Service office is at 111 S. Main St. Suite 10 in the basement of the Jackson County Courthouse in Brownstown.
For information, call 812-358-6101, visit extension.purdue.edu/jackson or find Purdue Extension Jackson County on Facebook.