Ron Wolford Celebrates 35 Years with Extension

On February 21 I celebrated my 35 year anniversary with the University of Illinois Extension in Chicago. During my 35 years with Extension I have had the opportunity to work with and meet some great people. People like Gerald and Lorean Earles who taught a young Extension Educator how to dumpster dive for materials for their Slumbusters community garden. 75 year old Faith Rich dressed in her blue hat and sensible shoes while walking me through Westside alleys in 1985 pointing out potential sites for community gardens. June Bethely, a science teacher at Joplin School who after participating in our indoor school gardening program started a highly successful gardening program at Joplin, plus a community garden along the Metra tracks in her Southside neighborhood. Mary Jane Gaulke, a teacher at a near Northside school who started one of the first rooftop gardens in the city in 1986 and Brother Denis who brought me to his proposed two city lot community garden site covered in rubble that became the Su Casa community garden that continues today.

I have also been blessed to work with some "good" people in Extension like Jane Scherer, Greg Stack and Molly Hofer as part of the NE Region Web Development team. 20 or so years ago we came together to start developing educational websites for Extension's Urban Programs Resource Network, not really knowing how to go about it and today that website averages millions of hits a month. Dr. James Oliver and Willene Buffett while under their leadership made Cook County Extension one of the most innovative Extension units in the country. My now retired secretary, Gladys Klimek whose work ethic for 20 years inspired me and who made every day at work fun and Eva Woods, Margaret Love and Edna Eiland former Urban Gardening program assistants who gave a young Extension Educator lessons in "Street Smarts"

I can't forget all the Master Gardeners who are the backbone of any programming we have done in Chicago. They are responsible for the success of our 19 year gardening program at the Cook County Jail, the Smart Home Garden at the Museum of Science and Industry, the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center Rooftop "Karma Garden", numerous school and community gardens and our programming at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show.

All I can say is I love my job!

Ron Wolford served 40 years in Illinois Extension, focusing on improving the health of gardens throughout  Cook County.