After 27 years with Jackson County UW-Extension, Luane Meyer is planning on retiring in January from her post as family living agent and department head of the program.
Even though she is retiring, Meyer plans to continue to be involved with extension and the community.
“I am looking forward to other opportunities that there might be. I will stay somewhat involved with some extension programming – some of the community programs that we have for families and individuals, and do some co-facilitating,” Meyer said.
Meyer started her career with extension working on the expanded food and nutrition program for one year in Vernon County and then four years in Jackson County.
“It was made up of program assistants who did home visits with families. They went into the home and worked one-on-one with families who fell within the guidelines of the food stamp program and worked with them on budgeting and food preparation and food safety,” Meyer said adding that the current FoodWise program covers many of the same topics.
She was then hired as the family living agent for Jackson County, being named the department head in 2008.
on the years
Over her 27 years with Jackson County UW-Extension, Meyer admits a lot has changed.
“When I first started, the secretaries printed off all of our emails because they had computers and we didn’t. So I think now if someone were printing off all of our emails, how crazy would that be?” Meyer said.
Meyer also has a lot of special memories of her time at extension including decorating the “pole sheds” at the old fairgrounds with Deb Jones to try and make it more pleasing to the eye and partnering with community programs like the Ho-Chunk Nation Head Start and the library to bring programs to the community.
“Doing financial management with pre-schoolers isn’t always something we always thought about doing, but it was a great way to expose children to saving and setting goals about what was important to them,” Meyer said. “Those were always fun programs – working with that age of child.”
Meyer was also with Jackson County UW-Extension when it originally moved to its current location after being in the courthouse basement.
“In 1994 we moved here, and that was at the time the new Health and Human Services building was built and Public Health moved out of here to the new building,” Meyer said. “We moved up here, which gave us some wonderful meeting space and parking space. It gave us some outdoor classroom space for programs and training. I think it worked out to be an advantage and an opportunity for extension here.”
Meyer also mentioned that before public health was located in the building, it was originally a DNR building, “We have had individuals stop who said I worked here when it was a DNR building.”
nEXT Generation changes
With the nEXT Generation Project changes happening to UW-Extension in the coming months, Meyer is glad there will still be an extension presence in Jackson County.
“There is still a real important effort to keeping an office in each county, and I think bottom line that is really important,” Meyers said explaining that other states have not done the same. “I think really from the get-go when there were so many uncertainties—that was a really important piece that was going to be carried through from when the talking first started to now seeing the changes.”
While Meyer admits there will be less staff at UW-Extension, she does think that staff will be better able to serve the residents of Wisconsin.
“There will be less staff, but it is also going to be looking at where they will be housed so that the staff that we have will be really accessible,” Meyer said. “When I first started, we did a lot of programming with specialists out of Madison and some of the areas have continued to do that where specialists come out and do programs partnering with the county staff. For family living that has changed quite a bit – we don’t have the specialists to do that.
“The face-to-face in the counties has changed with the specialists who might be located in different areas of the state. That might change back to where they are able to do more partnering with county staff.”
The changing landscape of gathering information
Meyer also expects social media to be a huge resource for extension going forward as a way to reach communities in Wisconsin.
“More and more people are finding that as a way to stay in touch with current information, and extension uses social media in responsible ways to get the information out to families as well, so I think that will be used more with programming in communities,” Meyer said.
The increase in social media and online resources to gather information has pushed extension to need to be even more present to make sure communities are getting the correct information.
“There is a lot of information out there with websites and the internet, and a part of the effort or goal with extension is to help people evaluate that information and determine what is the best for them,” Meyer said. “Those of us in extension don’t want to stand up and say this is the way you have to do it.”
Instead Meyer said extension works to share the information and helps people learn how they can integrate this information, like financial planning, parenting or farm succession, into their lives.
“There is so much coming at families, at youth and at businesses and it can be overwhelming, so we help people understand how to choose and decide how they can use this information for their personal lives or professional lives,” Meyer said.
Meyer is most proud of her work when she has been able to disseminate this information to the community, and then the public latches onto it and makes it their own like the Strengthening Families program.
“The first training we went to was in 2003, and over the years there have been more people trained,” Meyer said. “Programs that started here, but now because of the response they are respected programs—that the community has chosen to continue to support them in different ways—is probably one of the greatest things that I would feel pleased with.”
While Meyer has had several programs take off over the years, she has also seen some decline in programs like the clothing and foods revue at the fair. Meyer said sometimes topics need to take a break before they come back, like the community garden in Black River Falls.
Extension originally tried to get a community garden going in 2005 next to the Department of Health and Human Services building, but it never took hold until 2009.
“In about four years it went from something we just couldn’t get to take off and now there are like 40-some plots and how many different individuals that are involved, and so you just never know when things are going to pop up,” Meyer said.
Much like Meyer’s retirement, which will officially take place on Jan. 3.