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University of Illinois Extension

U of I Extension Marks 100 Years and Looks to Next 100 Years

June 4, 2014

NAPERVILLE, Ill. – University of Illinois Extension celebrates a century of serving Illinois communities this month. To mark the official anniversary, past Extension Educators and representatives gathered at localized reunions around the state to share stories, photographs and memories of the people and communities they served.

On May 9 in Naperville, dozens assembled, representing a range of University of Illinois Extension program areas including agriculture, horticulture, home economics, nutrition and youth development.

“The anniversary commemorates the 1914 signing of the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension Service to share land-grant university research with communities and provide practical information to farmers and homemakers,” said Sandra Davis, University of Illinois Extension County Director, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties.

“Today, University of Illinois Extension continues to provide educational services and research-based information aimed at making life better, healthier, safer and more prosperous for all Illinois residents and their communities.”


The First 100 Years

University of Illinois Extension played an important role in many major events in history – from the adoption of hybridized corn and the creation of rural electric cooperatives to the start of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the introduction of Telenet, the first distance-learning system.

“Since its inception, Extension has had its hand in important research and events, and in bringing together people around a shared cause or concern,” said Greg Stack, who spent 42 years as an Extension Horticulture Educator in Cook County. “Every person in this room had a hand in shaping Extension’s history.”

For 47 years Dr. Bill Whiteside served in an agricultural advisor role in Cook and Kane counties. He said what inspired him were the growers and producers he worked with over the decades.

“It was all about helping people, and that’s what it is today too,” Whiteside said. “The reason we made it to 100 years is that there is a need for it. Whether it is agriculture, home economics, or youth development, information continues to be updated or improved. And it needs to be packaged so that it is useful to the end-user.”


Time Means Change

Local celebration attendees represented many counties throughout the state, including Cook, DuPage, Kane, and Kendall counties. Over the years, they saw their fair share of change.

“The biggest to me is reaching different audiences,” said Mary Ann Petersen, who worked as a 4-H Youth Development Educator, beginning in 1970 and spending most of her career in Kendall and DuPage counties. “We weren’t reaching urban or suburban kids back then. We are now, and those kids have just as much to gain from 4-H.”

Illinois has progressed over time from predominantly rural to a growing urban and suburban state. Petersen noted that as the state has evolved, Extension evolved along with it.  “We work to reach everyone,” she said.

That is precisely what Extension strives to do. Extension people bring resources and research to the people of Illinois, whether that is a one-on-one visit for the “quintessential county agent experience” or a visit to one of hundreds of online tools.

“The mission is the same even if the delivery system is different,” said Brenda Harbaugh, who served as county director in DuPage County for many of her 16 years with Extension.  “The core values and purpose are the same whether we’re reaching out with social media or talking to someone one-on-one. We are about outreach; taking education and information to the people.”


The Next 100 Years

At the May event in Naperville, Dr. George Czapar, Associate Dean and Director of University of Illinois Extension and Outreach, shared how the statewide organization is starting the next 100 years with a new initiative.

“As we move forward, we are working to broaden our approach to provide research-based information from the whole University,” Czapar said. “We want to raise awareness of Extension and use the Extension network around the state to spread a vast array of campus research and resources.”

This means Extension will serve as the outreach arm for additional colleges and units at the University of Illinois, in addition to the long-standing collaboration with the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES).

For more information about University of Illinois Extension, visit the state website at web.extension.illinois.edu/state, or to find your local office in DuPage, Kane or Kendall counties, visit web.extension.illinois.edu/dkk.

University of Illinois Extension provides educational programs and research-based information to help Illinois residents improve their quality of life, develop skills and solve problems.  


University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.

Source: Sandra I. Davis, County Extension Director, sidavis@illinois.edu

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