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Welcome new retirees (March 2021)

On Jan. 21, Dean Bev Durgan acknowledged that recent retirements happened without the usual fanfare. “Over the last few months, many of our colleagues have moved on to a new chapter in their lives by accepting the University’s Retirement Incentive Option. Please join me in congratulating them and acknowledging their significant contributions to Extension, our communities and to our state,” the dean wrote.
One retirement of historical importance in Extension is Lisa Behnken, the first woman to serve as “ag agent” (the former title for educators) in Minnesota, who retired after 40 years. Dean Malvick, program leader, wrote that Lisa began in Becker County. She moved to Olmsted County and then in 2004 to become a regional educator based in Rochester. Among her best memories are working with others to show possible solutions to pest problems through field trials and demonstrations. Lisa participated in and taught at Field School since its inception, conducted numerous private pesticide applicator workshops, taught and organized Ag in the Classroom for elementary kids, and hosted and taught many field days over the years. Lisa and colleagues in southeast Minnesota mentored more than 60 summer interns, many who have gone on to careers in agriculture. Lisa will continue to help with field trials as a volunteer with Extension and spend more time with her family on their home farm.

Antonio Alba Meraz, Extension educator, has reached on average 500 immigrants and members of diverse ethnic groups in Minnesota per year over the past 15 years with financial education in English and Spanish. Antonio collaborated with colleagues to develop Supporting Agricultural Workers from Mexico: Balancing Work and Family Demands and Open Doors with Higher Education. He provided critical leadership for Dollar Works2 and RentWise curriculums. He also co-founded the Latino Community of Practice. Antonio was instrumental in strengthening the international relationship of U of M Extension with the Consulate of Mexico in Saint Paul. Since 2018, Antonio has provided stellar leadership to the Latino Financial Literacy Team.

Teri Anderson, Brainerd Regional Office support staff, retired after 16 years of service. Teri started her career on the first day the regional offices opened, January 5, 2004. Teri is a problem-solver. Throughout her career with Extension, she gained a vast amount of knowledge about the University finance systems, provided technology support, and kept the regional office running smoothly. Teri has set up many systems that work well for the Brainerd Regional Office and some have been adapted on the state level.

Amy Baack, SNAP-Ed regional coordinator, retired on Jan. 4. She joined Extension in 2010 as a community nutrition educator in Nicollet County and took on the role of coordinator in 2014, supervising educators in south-central Minnesota. She created a strong team of educators who strived to help low-income families and individuals in their communities lead healthier lives.

Mary Caskey, associate program director, SNAP-Ed, began her Extension career in 1998 as a health and nutrition educator. Mary is proud of her work on the Great Trays training program for school nutrition leaders. In all, 75 percent of schools in Minnesota participated to address barriers to serving healthy meals to students. Mary led the development of a signature program management and evaluation data system and led a team of regional supervisors to improve health and wellbeing of families across the state.

Georgia Dunlevy retired on Jan. 8 with over 48 years of service. Most of Georgia’s career was in Extension and her financial work and guidance has been rooted across our organization, within the University and across the state. Her wealth of knowledge of Extension, University policies and operations was invaluable. She was meticulous and took great pride in the financial work and assistance she provided.

Gwen Gmeinder, government relations associate, retired on Nov. 30. She joined Extension in 1999 and began her last role in 2015. Gwen excelled at organizing events and supporting communications with Extension stakeholders, including the Citizens Advisory Committee and the Association of Minnesota Counties, as well as honoring and keeping in touch with Extension retirees.

Sarah Greening, Extension chief of staff, retired on Dec. 31. Sarah led many initiatives in Extension and the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station during her long career with the University. “Thank you, Sarah, for all that you did for our organization and employees, and best wishes on your life’s next journey,” wrote Dean Bev Durgan.

Becky Hagen-Jokela, Extension educator, Family Resiliency, has developed and provided leadership to several financial capability curricula over 27 years, including Booshke Giin (It's Up to You; It’s Your Decision), which provides financial education to American Indian youth using Ojibwe legends. She co-developed the RentWise curriculum and adapted it for online use. Becky was instrumental in working across Extension centers to integrate Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate, with a focus on the importance of family communication into the Intergenerational Land Transfer program. Becky provided essential leadership for several professional organizations, including the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Science, and Epsilon Sigma Phi.

Jeff Hahn, Extension educator and professor, retired on Dec. 31. Jeff has been the face of entomology for the University of Minnesota for over three decades. He has been invited across the state to lend his expertise with pests and their management during annual training programs for the landscape and structural pest industries, and the Master Gardener Volunteer Program. He is also much sought after for youth programs, including FFA and 4-H. Jeff’s contributions have been recognized with numerous awards over his career including the CFANS Distinguished Extension/Outreach Award and the Department of Entomology Community of Service Award.

Mardi Harder retired from Extension on Jan. 1 after over 40 years with Extension in a variety of county, multi-county and regional roles. She began her career in Extension as an Extension agent in Cass County and she retired as the regional director at the Cloquet Regional Office. Mardi has been committed to Extension's mission of making a difference by connecting local needs with University resources that engage individuals, families, youth and communities across Minnesota to build a better future.

Mary Ann Hennen’s last day with Extension was Dec. 8. In her 20-plus years with Extension, Mary Ann served as a leadership development specialist, a county educator, the leadership and civic engagement program leader, director of professional development, and finally, as a regional educator. She grounded her work in scholarly research, establishing effective collaborations with program partners and building strong relationships with stakeholders and funders by using collaborative approaches while providing equitable and inclusive program development, delivery and evaluation.

Margo Herman, Extension educator, Youth Development, came to Extension in 2008. Margo has dedicated herself to building youth work leadership, integrating youth program quality, enhancing culturally responsive practices, and supporting social and emotional learning. From curriculum development of Leadership Matters and Social Emotional Learning in Practice to championing youth program quality efforts, Margo is a skilled educator with a knack for designing relevant programs and creating conditions for engaged learning. She is a master teacher, serving as a role model and mentor to colleagues.

Mary Hjelm, Andover Regional Office support staff, retired on Jan. 8. Mary worked with Extension for 25 years, beginning her career with Extension in the Anoka County office in 1996. Mary began working at the Andover Regional office in January 2004. She has worked with all programming areas. Her attention to detail and willingness to help will be greatly missed.

Betsy Johnson, Extension educator, Health and Nutrition, worked for Extension for 13 years in Grand Rapids. She has contributed to many great Extension health, physical activity, and nutrition curricula and programs, including Cooking is a SNAP, Nutrition Energizers, and Healthy and Fit on the Go. A sign of pride and success is that all her programs have been created in partnership with SNAP-Ed educators who work directly with the programs and participants. Betsy has also worked closely with the mobility adaptation for the popular program I Can Prevent Diabetes and has worked closely with the Minnesota Department of Health to launch that program.

Ann Luke, SNAP-Ed educator, retired on Jan. 15. For almost 20 years, she taught nutrition education in the Twin Cities. She has kept her passion for the mission of Extension’s Health and Nutrition programs through many changes. As a skilled educator, Ann has thoughtfully and creatively adapted curricula to every class she taught. She loves youth and taught 14 years in schools. She also developed the Children’s Garden in Residence curriculum with the Landscape Arboretum, ensuring it was effective for all. She also left an impact on many immigrant and refugee students through her engaging classes with them.

Cynthia Messer’s last day with Extension was Dec. 4. In her 27-plus years with Extension, Cynthia was the lead designer of Extension’s multicultural customer service training, the community tourism design program and education for tourism leaders. She also influenced major industry initiatives, including eco-tourism, sustainable tourism and the prevention of the sexual exploitation of children. Cynthia demonstrated excellent teaching in credit and non-credit tourism courses at the University and led and served on a wide variety of committees for Extension, the University, and on the state and national level. In her final year with Extension, she served as interim associate dean.

Mary Meyer, professor and Extension horticulturist, who directed the Extension Master Gardener program from 1994 to 2007, transitioned to professor emeritus in the Department of Horticultural Science as of Jan. 1. Author of numerous Minnesota plant guides, she coordinated statewide multimedia educational programs in environmental, consumer and commercial horticulture, including sustainable home landscapes. Mary will continue managing the grass collection at the Arboretum and writing about the Arboretum's historic plant collections. You can still hear her on WCCO's 8 a.m. Saturday morning Smart Gardens radio show.

Dawn Newman has made a difference for the people of Minnesota and the 11 sovereign nations within its borders for more than 16 years. She served as a regional director, an American Indian and tribal partnership liaison, an American Indian community economics educator and as a leadership and civic engagement educator. Her contributions broadened Community Vitality’s work and staffing with Minnesota tribes. Dawn’s passion for diversity, equity and inclusion has never faltered as she worked to name and address systemic inequities.

Ann Nordby’s last day with Extension was Dec. 2. Ann helped to develop Youth Development’s online presence including its first cohesive website, launched in 2010, and its current website in 2018. She is the founding editor of Youth Development Insight, a publication that bridges research and practice in youth work. She developed the first 4-H at the Minnesota State Fair app, as well as its more recent versions. Her work was featured in a 2014 Journal of Extension article and has been recognized with several national 4-H awards. She taught communications webinars, conference workshops and an online course called Writing for Extension.

Tammy Nordick, Extension educator, 4-H Youth Development, Otter Tail County, served Extension for 18 years as a coordinator for one of the state’s largest 4-H youth development programs. With an average of 2,282 young people participating annually in West Otter Tail County, Tammy managed and embraced new opportunities for youth to learn, lead and contribute. Her strong leadership skills built a partnership with the Salvation Army, nurtured 4-H Science of Agriculture teams and engaged an active county ambassador group. Tammy’s innovation helped pilot new 4-H procedures for the online livestock ID process.

Pat Persoon’s last day with Extension was Jan. 5. Pat has worked with Extension for over 29 years, beginning her career with Extension in the Lincoln County office in October 1991. Pat is proud to have served as a 4-H exchange host and received the 4-H Recognition Award from Lincoln County. Pat also received the Extension Civil Service Consultative Committee Certificate of Appreciation in 2000. In January 2004, Pat moved to the Marshall Regional Office where she served on the state board redesigning the Food Nutrition Program (now SNAP-Ed) and developing forms and a database for statewide nutrition programming. She was awarded the Dean’s Distinguished Support Staff ward in 2012.

Sandy Rand retired on Jan. 15 after a 44-plus year career of working with the Extension Center for Youth Development. She worked with the Minnesota 4-H Youth Development program throughout her entire career. Her main role was to provide executive support to the state 4-H leaders and center associate deans during her tenure, but she did so much more by touching people's lives with her kindness, sense of humor, organizational skills and amazing knack for hosting.

Darlyce Rangaard, SNAP-Ed educator, retired on Jan. 8. For the past 11 years, she worked out of the Lyon County Extension office. Darlyce taught countless people how to cook in healthy ways and save money while doing it. She taught many school children about the joys of eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains and then worked with school food services on Smarter Lunchroom strategies and improving school breakfast.

Michael Reichenbach retired on Dec. 30 after more than 20 years of service. Mike has worked as an Extension educator since 1999. He has collaborated with Minnesota’s forest landowners to restore long-lived conifers on the Lake Superior shoreline and envision a sustainable forest future, learn about and adopt new forest management practices to protect against fires and invasive pests, and communicate their hopes and dreams to leave their land more resilient and aligned with their personal and financial goals. He has worked with Minnesota forest industry leaders and served in leadership roles for the Association of Natural Resources Extension Professionals in Minnesota and nationally.

Lorelei Schelhaas, SNAP-Ed educator, retired on Jan. 8. She worked in the Pipestone County Extension Office during her 19-year Extension career. Through her I CAN Prevent Diabetes classes, Lorelei helped many people lose weight and improve their health while having fun. She was instrumental in getting EBT acceptance at the Pipestone Farmers Market and she transformed the Pipestone County Foodshelf into a SuperShelf.

Susan Schuler, Grand Rapids Regional Office support staff, provided 16 years of service, first at the Cass County Extension Office. Sue provided staff technology support, customer service for walk-ins and phone inquiries, and support for Extension programs. Sue is consistent in her approach, respectful and organized in her work, and will drop everything to help a person in need.

Brenda Slaughter retired on Jan. 15 after more than 37 years of service. Brenda started with Extension’s Office of Special Programs and most recently worked at “The Barn” through Ramsey County Health & Nutrition programs. Brenda enjoyed providing staff support, providing customer service for walk-ins and phone inquiries, and providing support for Family Development health and nutrition programs. She helped coordinate facility projects and showed great pride in her work.

Denise Stromme’s last day with Extension was Jan. 14. Denise’s extensive experience in environmental education strengthened Extension’s ability to develop leaders for environmental issues, such as soil management, watersheds, invasive species and pollution control. She provided leadership for a number of leadership cohorts and alumni groups. Denise’s scholarship in positive psychology, her holistic sense of community leadership, and her willingness to share her time and wisdom made her a highly sought-after facilitator and presenter in a wide variety of educational and community-based settings. She co-designed innovative new content such as Two for You, which made Extension’s work accessible to a global audience.

Sharon Weiss, Extension educator, 4-H Youth Development, has spent nearly 34 years with Red Lake County 4-H, finishing her career as the local Extension educator. Sharon reaches a high percentage of the youth in Red Lake County through her after-school programming. The kindness, support and attention to detail that Sharon provided to the community created a wonderful culture for the 4-H Youth Development program. Sharon is also well known for her asparagus farm and business. The care that she devoted to the 4-H program will now be devoted to her asparagus and her grandchildren.

Sue Young retired on Jan. 15 after over 24 years of service to the University. In 2015, Sue was hired as the accountant for Extension’s Center for Family Development (FD). Sue brought her knowledge from previous work in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Medicine as a sponsored and non-sponsored accounting expert. Sue was the center’s certified approver, ensuring that the sponsored requirements were being met within the University’s and sponsor’s guidelines.

Marcia Woeste, Extension educator, Youth Development, joined Extension in 1977. She began her career in Todd County before moving to the Brainerd regional office in 2003. Her work involved 4-H animal science programming in northern Minnesota and beyond. She received the Minnesota Farm Bureau's 2018 Extension Faculty and Staff of the Year award, recognizing the important role that she played in helping farmers keep up-to-date on new technology and training future agricultural leaders. Marcia provided multi-region and state level leadership to 4-H program operations and animal science, serving an instrumental role with the State 4-H Dairy Show for over 40 years.

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