WEST LIBERTY, Iowa —The Extension Service in Muscatine County is now 100 years old. It’s one of five Iowa counties to have reached the century mark.
When you have significant birthdays, well-wishers come to pay their respects. For the Muscatine County Extension Service — celebrating its centennial at the Muscatine County Fair Wednesday — birthday greetings came from Cathann Kress, Iowa State University’s vice president for Extension and Outreach.
It’s fitting Kress should be on hand. During the 1990s, she was a regional youth development specialist who worked with the West Liberty School District on a youth leadership project.
A native of Sharon Center, Kress showed sheep and did public speaking and photography during her own 4-H career.
Kress said it’s the Extension’s mission to extend ISU research across the state in traditional fields like natural resources and nutrition but also in nontraditional fields such as community and economic development.
Last year, she said, the Extension Service helped companies create or retain 6,000 jobs in Iowa.
Before beginning her work at ISU in 2011, Kress worked for the Defense Department and for six years before that served as national 4-H director, working for three U.S. secretaries of agriculture from 2002-08.
“What I learned there is the great variety of ways that 4-H impacts young people,” she said. “We got 4-H programs installed at every military installation, and I’m very proud of that work.”
“The beauty of the 4-H program is that a young person decides what they will become involved in depending on what fits their circumstances. They can cultivate an interest in science, agriculture, robotics or anything else.
“They become good citizens and excellent leaders. I think you can do that in an urban or a rural setting, in Alaska or Florida.”
Kress presented a certificate and ceremonial coins to Muscatine County Extension leadership, including the nine members of the county council who provide leadership for the local program.
Muscatine County has a strong program, she said.
“This program exists because of a lot of dedicated people who believe in education,” she said. “It takes an awful lot of people to make this work.”
In fact, she said, it takes 17,000 volunteers across the state to make the Extension program go.
“That’s not people who show up just once,” she said. “They are ongoing volunteers — Master Gardeners, 4-H, Extension volunteers. I just think it’s a tremendous contribution. There’s no way we could do it without those volunteers.”