Thank you and a final, fond farewell

Thank you and a final, fond farewell

I want to say thank you and farewell to all the clientele who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know and work with. The job as an OSU Extension educator really is all about the people we serve and the good colleagues we get to work with.

After 38 years in the education/public service career, my retirement started July 1. It is exciting to start the next chapter of life but also a bit sad as it truly has been the people who make the years of service worth it.

I was relocated to the Holmes County Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension educator position in 2012 after serving as state maple syrup specialist at OARDC for 13 years, a role which I kept on top of the new county educator position. It was not a major relocation as I grew up in Wayne County and lived in Southern Wayne County near Fredericksburg. The 10 years I was away pursuing my master’s and doctorate degrees and starting my extension work in Western Ohio, I was always working to get back to this area.

It is a far cry from where I thought life was going to take me. God’s plans for us are great, and when you open your mind, spirit and faith, God will show you the way. If you would have asked me in high school if I would go to college, let alone end up with four different degrees from four different universities, I would have laughed at you. I was going to be a mechanic and farm the rest of my life. God’s will was different than my plan.

So I followed the opportunities God laid out before me. Those opportunities allowed for doing research in Costa Rica, the Bahamas, across Ohio, in Wisconsin and Vermont. I was able to travel to South Africa and talk to farmers about farming in Ohio. I was part of a team that researched the Amish furniture industry and the importance to this area.

My doctoral research was on the Ohio maple syrup industry and hence why I have the nickname “Dr. Sticky Sweet.” Through my 23 years as the state maple syrup specialist for the Ohio State University Extension, I was able to travel, conduct research and provide educational programming to every maple-producing state (13) in the United States and to four of the five maple-producing provinces of Canada.

One of the great things about the job is meeting so many folks and hearing so many interesting questions. The job is part knowing where to find the answers to the questions and part detective to ask the right questions to learn what is going on. Sometimes asking the right question leads you to the real problem, not the one they called about. Often a client will stop in the office or call in or stop me when out at one of the livestock auctions and say I have a question for you. Twenty minutes and two-dozen questions later, I’ll be saying goodbye and trying to remember where I was going and what I was going to do when I got there.

People ask me if I get weird questions. The answer is yes. Not all are weird. Some would fall into the categories of funny, sad, scary, confusing, and some you will answer so many times you will answer it in your sleep. For me that answer-in-your-sleep question would be how do I kill poison hemlock?

I answered this so often that I put together a handout to inform folks on which chemical combinations work best and when to do it and that you have to do it for consecutive years to get all the seed bed to have any chance of getting it under control. People like quick and easy answers. Often, I can’t give them that, but I give them options and the best options to solve the issue. I give them the science-based, unbiased knowledge that will help them.

I’ve been asked to look at fields and try to determine why and what happened. I’ve been asked how to get rid of weeds without chemicals. Vegetation samples I’ve received to identify ranged from one leaf or a partial leaf to a 5-gallon bucket full of the problem weeds to ID and how to control them. The 5-gallon bucket of weeds usually brings in bugs and crawly things too. The impossible weeds to identify were ones put in a Ziploc bag that was left on the dash of the pickup truck. When it gets to me, it is soggy mush or completely dried up, making identification impossible.

A leather shop called and said bugs were coming out of some of their finished pieces. The detective hat went on. After identifying the bug and learning some pieces are filled with buckwheat to keep their shape, I looked to where the buckwheat was stored and bingo, the bug infestation found, mystery solved.

The ladies in my office are not excited when someone brings in an insect/bug and says “is this bed bugs?” Lucky I only had a few of those, but I did get lots of ticks, which the ladies don’t care for either. After identification, they went into a vial with hand sanitizer to kill them. I had quite the collection of dead ticks in my desk drawer that my co-workers didn’t know about.

My earlier work for OSU Extension was in water quality. Because of my long history of working with water, I received lots of pond questions from Holmes and surrounding counties. Explaining the geese on the pond are so bad for water quality when I know they like to look at the geese was difficult. I used my old standby visual aid explanation to make it stand out how bad geese are for water quality.

Years ago I worked with a water chemist, and we determined that for every one goose on the pond, imagine seven dairy cows doing their business there, not in volume of defecation, but in volume of nutrients deposited. After the shock of that mental/visual picture, I give them the fact sheet of how to “legally” deal with geese.

Thank you to all the Holmes County folks who welcomed me and became friends. I also want to thank the great maple producers who came into my life and made a difference in my professional and personal life. I know the people who touched my life, and one of the most humbling experiences is when a client relays how I positively impacted their life. It’s not why we do the job, but it is nice to know you are making a difference.

The process to fill the position is not as easy as in the past, but work will begin in early July to start the process. There may be a needs assessment conducted to determine the best fit for the county. Until then you can still call or stop in the office and the folks there will take care of your needs and/or find the answers for you. Ohio State University Extension serves to bring the knowledge of the university to you and the community.

Goodbye and God bless you all, Gary.

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