Sen. Coons acknowledges Extension’s rich history, future at annual conference

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (center) receives the Friends of Extension Award from Albert Essel of Delaware State University and Michelle Rodgers of UD.
U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (center) receives the Friends of Extension Award from Albert Essel of Delaware State University and Michelle Rodgers of UD.

Cooperative Extension professionals from the University of Delaware and Delaware State University met on Wednesday, Oct. 22, in Dover for their annual conference.

The day included professional development workshops, and celebrated the remaining months of Cooperative Extension’s centennial anniversary. It was also an opportunity to recognize individuals and partnerships that have facilitated Extension’s mission to deliver university-based research and innovations to Delaware’s families and agricultural constituents.

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons served as the conference’s keynote speaker and took questions after his remarks. Coons thanked Delaware Cooperative Extension for the significant service it has provided to the nation and the state.

“To me, it is extraordinary that you engage year in and year out, day in and day out, hour in and hour out in your careers in public service,” Coons said. “We need the men and women of Cooperative Extension, and what you bring to the communities of our country today, more than any time in the last century.”

Coons recognized the history of Extension and its significant impact and role during wars, famines and the changing dynamics of agriculture.

“My hope is that Cooperative Extension will bring to this century, what it brought last century – exactly the support needed to stabilize and sustain family farming, to create new opportunities for farming in places where it has disappeared decades ago, and make farming more profitable and more positive and more engaging to a generation of young people here today,” he said.

“Cooperative Extension has an amazing long record of making Delaware a better place,” Coons added. “Think about the challenges we have together in the century we are in and the years to come. Know with confidence that you are exactly the right people in the right place and the right time to help us meet those challenges.”

Michelle Rodgers, associate dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) and director of Cooperative Extension, and Albert Essel, director of Extension at Delaware State University, presented Coons with the first Friend of Extension Award of the day.

“The Friend of Extension Award is the highest recognition presented to a non-Extension person, business or organization and is designed to recognize truly outstanding support and personal involvement in Extension efforts,” Rodgers said.

In presenting the award to Coons, Rodgers said, “A friend listens and shares ideas to help make programs happen. A friend backs you when trying new ideas. A friend provides resources, knowledge and funding to create strong successes. A friend helps build linkages, is inclusive and helps to create opportunities for success. A friend makes time to share their expertise and assistance.”

2014 Friend of Extension honorees 

In addition to Coons, the following individuals received the distinctive Friend of Extension Award:

R.C. Willin Jr.

R.C. Willin Jr., along with his brother J.C. Willin and their sons Chad and Brent, operate Willin Farms, west of Seaford, Delaware. The fifth-generation family farm — where they are currently growing corn, soybeans, wheat and barley on 1,200 acres — has a long-standing commitment to agricultural excellence. They own and operate three poultry farms with a capacity of 222,000 roaster birds.

Placing environmental stewardship as a high priority, Willin frequently works with UD as a cooperator for crop research in the areas of nutrient management, weeds, insects and irrigation. The farm serves as a host for several agricultural field trips that highlight both agricultural and environmental best practices.

Willin also serves on the CANR Dean’s Advisory Board, Sussex County Field Crops Program, Sussex County Poultry Extension Program and UD Extension Nutrient Management/Environmental Quality Advisory Committee, as well as many other groups dedicated to improving Delaware.

Faith Kuehn

Faith Kuehn is a plant regulatory officer in the Department of Plant Industries at the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA). With DDA, she has made contributions to UD’s plant pathology and plant diagnostic programs through donations of equipment, supplies, time and expertise.

Her commitment to strong partnerships includes Extension and has not only helped to create a Delaware team that is enviable and nationally recognized but has ensured the economic viability of agricultural products in the state.

Kuehn promotes pollinator gardens and sustainable landscapes across the state. She also works closely with Extension professionals and volunteers to demonstrate the benefits and best practices of urban agriculture, including her support of urban farms and community gardens.

Jean Skibinski

Recognized for her 54-year involvement as family consumer educator (FCE), Jean Skibinski joined Extension in 1960 when she learned about the Home Demonstration Clubs and wanted to be included.

Skibinski launched the New Brook Club, and has served at every level of FCE service, including the leadership role with UD Cooperative Extension as the first president of the Delaware Extension Homemakers Association.

Skibinski currently serves as New Castle County and state FCE treasurer. She has written educational guides and presented workshops at the national, state and county level.

Skibinski is civic-minded, and was instrumental in helping to pass the seatbelt laws in Delaware. She rallied state legislation and participated in public policy debates. Also, she was active in adult leadership training and served in all aspects of funding and implementation of this training across several issues.

Her dedication extended to women’s financial literacy and the Women’s Financial Information Program.

Delaware State Fair

As an organization, the Delaware State Fair has provided long-term support and facilities for Delaware 4-H’s Youth Development Program. The fairgrounds have been the location of many annual county and state events, as well as numerous conferences, workshops and seminars conducted for Delaware Extension clientele.

The 80-member board of directors, as well as the administrative staff for the Delaware State Fair, recognizes the importance of providing opportunities to 4-H youth. The outstanding facilities provide the program the ability to conduct educational, safe and fun events for youth, as well as for those 4-H youth from other surrounding states.

In addition, the fair supports various 4-H programs through monetary support or donations to assist in fundraising efforts. The Delaware State Fair demonstrates a large interest in the overall Extension programs and appreciates the impact Extension and 4-H have made consistently over the years.

Delaware Cooperative Extension Director’s Leadership Award

The Delaware Cooperative Extension Director’s Leadership Award was presented to Jennifer Volk, Extension specialist in environmental quality and management, for her role in developing and implementing a reporting system for recording the impact of Extension programs across the state.

Rodgers also acknowledged former UD director of Extension, Jan Seitz, for her vision in establishing the Extension Scholars Program, which continues as a meaningful service learning model where UD students develop leadership and interpersonal skills, as well as apply a wide variety of Extension knowledge and university coursework.

Rodgers noted Seitz’s long-term commitment in giving back to her adopted state by creating and endowing the Janice A. Seitz Cooperative Extension Scholars Fund.

Delaware State University honorees

Delaware State University also honored three award recipients — Linda Dayes, Faith Robinson and Tamaira Banks.

Photos of the 2014 Delaware Cooperative Extension Annual Conference can be viewed on Extension’s Flickr photo gallery.

Article and photos by Michele Walfred