At last week’s retirement open house for Jefferson County Extension Director Ken Simeral, OSU Extension retiree Joe Pittman observed, “I’ve always said there are good agents, there are average agents and there are those who should be working someplace else.
“Ken is one of the good ones.”
Pittman should know. He’s a former county agent (they’re now called educators), and later, as district director for eastern Ohio, he’s the one who hired Simeral back in 1968.
Ken is one of the good ones. And the crowd of well-wishers at the reception proved it, as did the scores of notes and letters and cards and photographs compiled into a memory book for the new retiree.
“It’s a bit overwhelming,” Simeral confessed.
An extension agent’s job is not easy. There are lots of night meetings and nontraditional work days. There’s paperwork and phone calls and programs to coordinate. For extension directors, there are personnel headaches, fiscal responsibilities and the never-ending job of lobbying for funding.
Since 1988, Simeral has also served as ag educator in adjacent Harrison County, too.
And all those night meetings meant “my children didn’t always have me there,” Simeral said. But his lament can also find joy, as his career surely influenced the decision by two of his children to seek employment in Extension. His daughter, Beth Boomershine, is 4-H educator in Franklin County, and his son, Christopher, is a 4-H educator in Bracken County, Ky. Another daughter, Amy, lives in South Carolina.
There were posters scattered around the reception that featured “Ken-isms,” or sayings frequently uttered by the extension director. Some made sense, like “If you don’t want the answer, don’t ask the question”; others made you laugh, like “Put the monkey on the back it belongs on”; and still others just left you scratching your head, like “Nobody kills a dead dog.”
It was that down-home personality that connected Simeral with everyone from farmers to legislators. And it was his ability to challenge farmers to think of agriculture beyond traditional ventures that led a group in the county to use Angora goats as a four-legged control to multiflora rose back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It worked, and producers had the added benefit of profits from the goats’ mohair (until the bottom fell out of the mohair market).
Today, Simeral’s challenge to the county’s residents continues through his belief in leadership development, community development and, of course, youth development.
Speaking at his retirement reception last week, Simeral made yet another astute observation: “Extension is not a one-person deal and it’s not a spectator sport.”
He’s right. The programs offered through OSU Extension – the outreach arm of Ohio State University and like the extension programs in states across the country – can be successful only with the support of volunteers, advisory councils and other individuals.
Mix one part volunteer support and one part “good” Extension agent and there’s no telling what can happen.
Just ask the people of Jefferson County.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)