Recently we dug out a few archival photographs for the office walls here on campus. We thought it fitting to celebrate both where we are today, as well as where we came from. That’s when we came upon this one from over a hundred years ago. This was pretty much the entire extension staff and faculty in those days. What a crew they were. Although they look rather somber given photography at that time, the truth is they were on the cusp of greatness. They were forward-thinking people committed to the land-grant mission and the cooperative extension idea. These folks led Seed Corn Gospel trains and short courses, and provided demonstrations to improve farm homes and families. They also recognized the importance of educating rural youth – with corn clubs that later became 4-H. Their work led to the establishment of extension nationwide, and their stories and so many more are part of our history in ISU Extension and Outreach, a history we continue to celebrate this year as 13 more counties observed their 100 year anniversaries of extension work.
What strikes me is how this small group of people came together to accomplish something really big. It wasn’t just shared self-interest. It rose above and embraced the ideals of sharing with and helping others. It wasn’t just a pipeline for technology transfer, but a mutual, positive view of others in society, and a particular identification with the ordinary, the humble, and the least privileged. The beginning of extension funneled the mission of our institution to a commitment of limiting self-interest and focusing on altruism. That’s what cooperatives do.
Some people say, the more things change, the more they stay the same – and in some fundamental ways that is true. We remain true to our land-grant mission and we continue our goal and role: Together, we provide education and build partnerships designed to solve today’s problems and prepare for the future. Look again at the photo, at the faces of people who could have chosen to just look out for themselves, but instead chose to build an extension system, which looks out for others. That’s who we still are. That’s who we will always be. See you there.
P.S. You can follow me on Twitter @cathannkress.