Osceola County MSUE commemorates 100 years of service

REED CITY — Current and previous members of the Osceola County Michigan State University Extension office spent Tuesday afternoon immersed in history, alongside their fellow MSUE agents and Osceola County employees.

Tuesday commemorated 100 years of MSUE service in Osceola County.

The Osceola County extension office began during WWI, in 1917, with an agriculture agent as part of an influx of wartime funds, said Shari Spoelman, MSUE district coordinator.

“The goal was to make sure there was an agriculture agent in all of Michigan’s counties to help with farming and being prepared for the war effort,” she said.

The agriculture agent worked to make sure people had food on their tables, were taking care of their animals and were providing the animals with the right kinds of nourishment. The agent also helped in bringing electricity and septic into rural homes, as well as taught families how to safely can foods, Spoelman said.

Later, the office grew to include 4-H, home economics, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) and social emotional health.

“People use the extension office for problems they may have,” Spoelman said, noting a wealth of information can be found on the MSUE website. “I think the important thing about the extension office is it’s all research based.”

MSUE agents may be able to answer questions or handle concerns by visiting the farm, or via phone or email. If an agent happens upon a question they can’t answer, they can reach out to faculty at MSU or other universities across the nation.

The availability of internet and social media has been the biggest change Osceola County’s Grazing and Crop Management Educator Jerry Lindquist has noticed in the 35 years he’s worked for MSUE.

“I used to just have the responsibilities of Osceola County, now I have state-wide responsibilities,” Lindquist said.

With the use of pictures and emails, Lindquist can reach out to many farmers across Michigan and address concerns they may have. One thing that hasn’t changed however, is the relationship with the farming families wanting assistance. Lindquist said building a relationship with people helps them follow through with the advice he gives.

Working with families was a favorite part of the job for Maggie Bethel, who attended the celebration on Tuesday. Bethel began her MSUE journey in home economics at the Osceola County office and worked her way up to the regional director position, which she held for more than four years.

“I loved my time on the ground with the people the most,” she said. “MSUE is so important because it brings unbiased and critical information to people who can use it to solve their problems. It places educators side-by-side with people in need.

“For youth, MSUE is important because it helps them learn by doing. The Osceola County 4-H program is very cutting edge in its activities. I am really proud of the staff here.”

Lindquist shared Bethel’s sentiments.

“It’s amazing to look at the people in the room and look at the impact they have had on the people of Osceola County,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have another 100 years of service.”