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Key extension office opening bumps up against hiring freeze

May 3, 2011

Carol Garringer

    Will someone from Purdue University attend next Monday's meeting of the Adams County Commissioners to help the three executives decide whether to fill a vacancy on the staff of Purdue's Cooperative Extension Service office in Decatur?
    That was the unanswered question after a lengthy debate held Monday.
    The county extension service board let the health and human sciences educator go early this year because of dissatisfaction with her job performance, but to fill the position, the board must convince the commissioners to break a county hiring freeze and also convince the county council to provide funds for a new person.
    At Monday's commissioners' session, Commissioners Doug Bauman, Kim Fruechte, and Ed Coil said they contacted Purdue to get a breakdown of how much of the overall pay total provided by the county (almost $100,000) is for the health and human sciences educator. So far, there has been no response and the commissioners say they will not act until they get that information from Purdue.
    Thus, Bauman requested that Purdue send someone to attend the May 9 meeting and clear up the matter.
    Three members of the extension board spoke to the commissioners yesterday: President Matt Henry, plus Angie Gunsett and Carol Garringer. In addition, approximately 25 people who work with the extension service, many of them from homemakers' clubs, filled almost every seat in the room to listen and applaud.
    Henry noted that the extension service affects some 2,400 Adams County families on a regular basis.
    Gunsett told the commissioners that the extension service is a major help to the agency she heads: the Adams-Wells Crisis Center in Decatur, a haven to women and children fleeing domestic violence and abuse.
    She said that, in 2010, the extension office aided 107 people at the crisis site in regard to nutrition, budgeting, financial management, etc. "We would be at a loss without family nutrition" advice provided by the extension staff, Gunsett said.
    Garringer said extension service staffers help teach people "to stand on their own" and gain and maintain "life skills," which is the assistance she likes best.
    The extension office, which also has an agriculture educator and a 4-H educator, operates as a partner to many groups, agencies, etc. in the county, especially regarding families and youth and issues such as eating responsibly, better health, child care, understanding credit card use, etc., she said.
    Garringer called the extension homemakers "a wonderful group, amazing" and noted that trying to have two people do the job of three overworks those two, who are Amy Johnson and Brad Kohlhagen.
    Kelly Amstutz, a former director of The Hope Clinic in Berne, told the commissioners that the extension service is important to poor people in the county, others with low incomes, and single mothers—those she termed "unseen people" by society at-large.
    Amstutz stated that extension staffers instruct people on "how to stretch food stamp" funds, they strengthen families and communities, etc.
    "We need to take care of these people," she pleaded.
    Kelli Fuhrmann, who works for the county soil and water conservation district, is also on the county 4-H board and has children in 4-H. She came close to crying as she said the extension office works very hard, especially Johnson and Kohlhagen, to assist others, including the county's large Amish population.
    Johnson is extremely good to everyone with whom she works, said Fuhrmann, who said she would hate to lose her or Kohlhagen due to overwork.
    Mark Merkel, who retired several years ago after more than 30 years as a Purdue extension educator here, said each of the three educator positions is specialized, so it's hard for people trained to work on one area to switch back and forth trying to fill a vacant post.

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