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UW-Extension celebrates 100 years

Char Croes and Vivian Wildasin are pictured with some of the old pamphlets Croes has received from the UW-Extension over the years.

Mission: To teach, learn, lead and serve, connecting people with the University of Wisconsin and engaging them in transforming lives and communities.

The University of Wisconsin- Extension has been helping people in the state for a century, and that's something worth celebrating. The year 2012 marks the 100th year UW-Extension educators have been working locally to strengthen businesses, communities, families and youth.

Cooperative Extension programming in Wisconsin began with Agriculture Agent E. L. Luther in February 1912, with programming for women added in 1914.

Today, Cooperative Extension offers research-based Family Living Programs in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties focusing on family relationships, parenting, family finances, childcare, healthy living, environmental preservation, agriculture and nutrition education.

St. Croix County Agriculture Agent Ryan Sterry says no two Extension offices are exactly the same, because each office works to meet the needs of the residents in their county while also sharing researched information with everyone across the state.

Joan Sprain, family living educator of St. Croix County, says the needs of Wisconsin's residents have changed over the years and each office changes to adapt to the current needs.

"For example, in family living we focus less on skills and more on decision making and what I would call resiliency. Like how do families deal with the economy or wanting safer food," she said. "Though the needs of the people have changed, we're just as relevant today as we were 100 years ago."

For example, Sterry has helped beginning farmers with budgets and business plans, in addition to providing agricultural information.

Sprain says the Extension helps people better manage their lives.

What if the Extension was never created?

Sprain believes the agriculture economy in Wisconsin would not be as strong had it not been for the Extension.

Sterry credits the Extension for Wisconsin's strong leadership development programs like 4-H, Home and Community Education (HCE) group, formally known as Homemakers, and the hundreds of Farm City Days volunteers.

Sprain went on to say that, "If Extension hadn't been involved there really would not have been anyone to convene communities together in an organized way. In Wisconsin we're here in the community and addressing priority issues."

Sterry says demand for services is up, so he doesn't see the need for the Extension going away anytime soon.

Sprain said that though people have access to various sources on the Internet, the Extension provides quality information that is backed by research.

"There isn't another organization like us. I think we have succeeded and been around as long as we have because we have helped people and when times are tough they've come to bat for us," Sprain said. "We also have an amazing group of dedicated volunteers."

Char Croes of Deer Park has been involved in the UW-Cooperative Extension for more than 50 years. She started in a 4-H Club at age 10 and she stayed involved throughout the years as a mother and grandparent, and she's still involved as part of HCE and Bookworms, who read to Head Start students and distribute thousands of books. Her mother was involved in Extension programs before her and Croes' own children were and still are very active in many of the programs, like the St. Croix County Fair.

Croes said she's experienced firsthand the many benefits of being involved in the Extension programs. She's utilized the agricultural education resources, cooking techniques, homemaking skills, and she experienced the social benefits of being involved in the state and county programs.

She said the Extension has evolved and improved over the years and is an asset to residents of St. Croix County.

"It keeps our county focused on being community minded," she said. "A program like this keeps you learning and growing, and I think there needs to be more of it."

More information about Cooperative Extension's centennial and programming is available at or by calling the St. Croix County office at 715-531-1930.