Coordinator has been with Extension office for over 20 years

Photo by Tucker Henderson
Longtime extension coordinator Janet Malone is retiring from the East Otter Tail County Extension office. She has been with the Extension office for over 20 years. 

By Tucker Henderson

Reporter

Over the past 20 years, 4-H members from around East Otter Tail County have been able to turn to their extension educator in times of need.

Whether that’s asking for assistance at the 4-H exhibit building, figuring out your schedule at the fair food stand, or learning life lessons at 4-H camp, Janet Malone has been a go-to person during her tenure at the extension office in New York Mills. She began in 2002 after an internal transition at the University of Minnesota.

“They were transitioning from a State-Local structure to a State-Regional-Local structure,” said Malone, “so that’s kind of how I got my job.”

At the time, Donna Geiser was the extension educator at the office here in town. As Geiser moved into a regional position, the local position opened up and Malone soon joined the team. She has enjoyed each step of the way since then, gaining 20 years of highlights from her career.

“One of my many favorite parts of my job is to see when young people grow in their confidence and take a stand for their own beliefs,” said Malone. “The confidence to see that next generation step into those leadership positions.”

Over the years, Malone has worked with families and individuals throughout East Otter Tail County involved in 4-H and in partnership with many community organizations.

“One of my main tasks when I started was not only taking on typical, traditional 4-H, but in those years they started what we call ‘4-H After School,’” said Malone. “We extended our program into already existing youth programs. We worked with the Boys and Girls Club and we partnered with some other youth entities.”

As the years went on, introducing 4-H into the local schools became more of a priority, especially for families new to the organization.

“The 4-H After School program is a feeder program for people who are not generational 4-H families,” said Malone. “We go into the school districts and if they have an already-existing childcare program, we can go in and do 4-H experiences there. It gives kids an opportunity to have a 4-H experience and possibly step into that community’s club.”

Malone mentioned that in NY Mills, they are currently hosting a “Kids in the Kitchen” experience through 4-H in hopes that individuals and families may join a local club, including the Mills Magic and Heinola Hustlers clubs.

“My other love is that 4-H is a family oriented organization,” said Malone. “And that it’s adults and youth learning and leading together. The other great thing is that it uses the experiential learning model where it puts the young person in the center of the learning environment and you just have to facilitate their curiosity and their wanting to learn about what it is they are interested in.”

When Geiser retired in 2011, Malone was left to lead the office on her own. She noted that there have been several people that have worked in the office located in the City Center building over the years, including occasional support staff, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that a second extension educator was added to the team.

“Now there are two of us extension educators,” said Malone. “We work with volunteer systems, teaching and training, and equipping adults and youth to volunteer within the organization. Program planning is another aspect to the job. When I started this job, they added another arm to 4-H which most people were not aware of and that was 4-H After School.”

Malone said that the after school program has been one of the largest changes to her job since 2002, expressing that it has been a very positive change to the region’s offerings.

“Out of that, being able to go into the community to do 4-H along with supporting the traditional clubs is one of our main goals,” Malone said. “I don’t think that people realize that the Extension Office is a service to our community, whether it’s through youth development, horticultural needs, or agricultural needs. The extension is an arm from the University of Minnesota into local counties and communities.”

There have been a multitude of projects over the years and countless individuals and families influenced by 4-H through the extension office, but several stick out in Malone’s memory.

“Our 4-H Children’s Garden program has been one of those teaching life skills that help families to understand the sustainability of their own needs as far as growing their own food and having the nutrition from their own garden,” said Malone of her career highlights. “I have seen a couple of our 4-H-ers go on to receive some amazing scholarships and being able to go on to further education. They’ve stepped up on the local level and shined with their leadership skills and served in various capacities within the organization and in the community. Just seeing things like that happen for our young people is good.”

As Malone finishes out her last few months at the Extension Office, the University of Minnesota is putting out feelers and accepting applications for the position which will be ready to be filled in January of 2023. Ideas for the future run through Malone’s mind.

“I’m looking forward to more time with my grandchildren,” said Malone,” and being able to do more volunteering within my church community.”

There will be some aspects of the job that Malone will miss however. A career of connections, memories, and community investment is sure to leave its mark on a person.

“There are 20 years of highlights,” smiled Malone, “I will miss the people and the families.”