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Van Dyk’s focus turns from home ec to 4-H

Eileen Van Dyk is the new assistant in the 4-H office at Pierce County UW-Extension. Among Van Dyk's past activities have been 4-H club leader, county fair judge and extension agent. (Herald photo by Bill Kirk)

Eileen Van Dyk brings a background in both UW-Extension and 4-H to her new position as assistant in Pierce County’s 4-H office.

Van Dyk started in the part-time post last week, aware she’ll help here on leadership programs with older youths, day camps and filling in for Pierce’s 4-H and Youth Agent Frank Ginther when he’s devoting time to responsibilities at the state level.

“I’m still working three days a week in Rusk County,” she said of a place where she’s been an interim 4-H agent. Her most recent duties will last until the end of this month.

Thereafter, she’s uncertain how often (perhaps three days weekly, too) and how long her newest job is going to last, she said. Nor has all of what she’s going to do in it been finalized.

But the skills Van Dyk’s obtained from her past career experiences are bound to serve her well in her latest role. She said she’s been a teacher, a 4-H leader, a fair judge and an extension agent, all in various locales around Wisconsin.

“I judged at the Pierce County Fair a long time ago,” she said, identifying clothing and home environment as her areas to influence ribbon-awarding at the fair in Ellsworth.

Van Dyk grew up in Deronda, near Amery, on a couple-hundred-acre dairy farm, putting up small square-bale hay and unloading wagons, among other chores. The daughter of the late Kenneth and Lois has three brothers, a trio presently living in the Amery area. Steve is a crop adjuster and used to help operate her family’s farm, David is now the farm’s operator and Kevin is in insurance.

“My mother is a former family living agent,” she said, providing what might be a clue as to how the daughter established a future path.

Meantime, as a youth she was active in a 4-H club known as the Little Falls Live Wires, which still exists, she said. It had 30-40 members at the time, most participating in projects that would take them to the Polk County Fair in St. Croix Falls. She entered clothing, some foods and showed dairy cattle there.

The 4-Her liked math and science as high school subjects, along with home economics, she said. Even today, she enjoys baking, quilting and gardening, describing them as hobbies.

After graduation, Van Dyk attended UW-Stout in Menomonie, majoring in family and consumer science (the modern name for home ec), she said. Her classes in the late 1960s included foods, sewing, construction and child development, plus she took a lot of educational courses, such as curriculum and teacher education.

“I planned to become a home ec teacher,” she said.

An internship at Medford High School, where she assisted in a class of 20-24 home ec students, was followed by her first full-fledged teaching job in Frederic, she said. She spent three years at the schools there in the early 1970s.

“At that time, my students were all girls,” she said, indicating she started a related program for boys.

Her first all-male class was in food preparation, the teacher said, a group of 15-20 she found to be bright.

“They were so anxious to learn,” she said.

Next for her came a stint as an extension home economist in Juneau County, Van Dyk said, based in Mauston. She’d long been interested in UW-Extension work and, in fact, had considered it before pursuing teaching.

As part of her home economist’s job, she went to a conference in Madison, she said. She met her then-future husband, John, at that gathering. He was employed with extension in Polk County. They married in 1976 and she returned to her home vicinity.

They started a family, which she would stay home to take care of off-and-on over a period of years, she said. Chris, their older son, currently runs the dairy farm they bought in 2000. Greg, their other son, is in the Air Force. Their two daughters are Laura, a teacher in New Richmond, and Kim, a veterinary technician. They also have 12 grandchildren -- six boys and six girls.

Their farm acquisition occurred after her spouse left the extension office, Van Dyk said. The approximately 280 acres they own is in the New Richmond area, where they now live, They rent an additional 160 acres or so.

“We lost our dairy barn in a fire this summer,” she said, noting the blaze in the two-story structure began in a hay mow. Their 60-some cows were saved, she added, and the herd may be expanded a bit once the one-story replacement they’re building is completed.

Van Dyk’s employment when she wasn’t a stay-at-home mom included teaching at Meyer Middle School in River Falls until a 2010 layoff, she said. She held several part-time positions and was eventually a 4-H educator in St. Croix County, just ahead of her accepting the interim post in Rusk.

Bill Kirk

Bill Kirk was editor of the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, from 1988 to February, 2015 and is now on staff as a reporter. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.

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