New Extension Director Named for Dixon Springs Agricultural Center and Six Surrounding Counties

URBANA, Ill. – Angela Messmer stepped into her new role as Unit Director for Illinois Extension in Gallatin, Hardin, Hamilton, Pope, Saline, and White Counties on December 2, 2019. Her appointment also includes oversight of Dixon Springs Agricultural Center (DSAC), a research facility in Pope County. This joint leadership appointment reflects a new strategy deployed by Illinois Extension to increase both technical and educational expertise to Extension programming efforts in the southern part of the state.

With more than 25 years of experience in education and community development, Messmer brings a passion for the Illinois Extension mission paired with the managerial expertise needed to implement a diverse program of activities. She says the opportunity to work for Illinois Extension is a chance to give back to her community, which is the type of meaningful work she was hungry for at this stage in her career.

"I was attracted to the idea of serving the counties that are my home,” Messmer says. “I saw this opening and it felt in-line with what I believe in and with the things I want to do. I am excited to provide direct service and work in my local community using some of my strongest professional skill sets.”

Messmer has jumped headfirst into her new role, taking over direction of programs ranging from commercial agriculture to food insecurity. One of Messmer’s largest responsibilities is coordinating plans to revitalize DSAC.

Founded in 1934, DSAC consists of about 5,100 acres devoted to agricultural research. Today the farm is home to around 900 beef cattle, hoop greenhouses for horticultural research, and natural forested areas. The center offers educational programming on a variety of topics, such as industrial hemp, beef, and maple syrup production.

According to Messmer, DSAC has long been an integral part of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, some of the buildings are showing signs of their age and their annual program of activities has diminished over time.

"The Dixon Springs center is an important part of the Pope County agricultural community,” says Messmer. “I want to assure the community and the public that we are going to restore this facility and our programming efforts over the coming years. We’ll make sure that Dixon Springs has a viable future in the Pope County community.”

Early efforts to revitalize DSAC focus on cosmetic upgrades. Plans are underway to repair fences, repave roads, patch old roofs, and beautify the landscaping. Even more importantly, Messmer is meeting with other Extension staff members to create future programming plans. She hopes to implement programs that are both helpful for local farmers and useful across Illinois and beyond. Although these plans are still in the beginning stages, Messmer wants to expand the cattle herd and horticultural programs, improve pasture quality, and work more closely with the Forest Service. 

According to Julie Ritchey, regional director for Illinois Extension, Messmer’s technical expertise combined with her exceptional leadership skills are what made her stand out as the best candidate for the position.

"The work of Illinois Extension is highly collaborative and requires leaders who have the ability to cultivate partnerships, inspire staff and volunteers, and create a vision of how we can improve the lives of Illinois residents,” says Ritchey. “Angie has demonstrated a great aptitude for finding technical experts who bring depth to the team, while also inspiring collaborative group dynamics. We are excited to see the transformation she will lead in the coming months.”

Messmer’s organizational proficiency is also crucial in her role as Unit Director. She has already begun preparing community gardens for spring, streamlining the Blessings in a Backpack program, and developing plans for county fairs.


Source: Angela Messmer, Illinois Extension County Director and Director of the Dixon Springs Agricultural Center,

Writer: Gretchen Macklin, Illinois Extension News Writer,