A pillar of the local agricultural community has stepped down. Pam Jacobs retired Dec. 31 as county extension director with the University of Illinois Extension.
Jacobs worked at the extension office in Monroe County for over 42 years.
“It has provided great satisfaction to see how education helped youth, families, producers and businesses,” said Jacobs, who lives in Waterloo. “This is the mission of the university: to bring the research and education from campus to the local people. That is the mission I have tried to follow, and it’s been very gratifying.”
Jacobs grew up in Washington County, where she was active in 4-H.
After graduating from Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a bachelor’s in family consumer science in 1976, Jacobs worked in other youth-related positions.
Friends from her days in 4-H encouraged her to consider taking a job with the extension, however, so she applied for one as youth advisor for Monroe County.
“I had been active in 4-H, knew the extension and my degrees were along that line of youth development and family enrichment,” Jacobs said as to why she was interested in the position.
She got the job, and started leading the 4-H program in this county on Feb. 21, 1977. She stayed in that role until 1992, when the extension reorganized.
Jacobs then became the unit leader for Monroe County, which meant she was responsible for staffing, programming, finances and facility management.
Another reorganization, which this time meant the extension office would serve three counties, took place in 2010. Jacobs once again moved up the ladder to her current role.
“I just enjoyed what I did and had good volunteer support,” she said. “It was very satisfying to see people benefit from the education that was brought by the university.”
In her four-plus decades with the extension, Jacobs has seen numerous reorganizations, the Waterloo office move from West Mill Street to the Monroe County Annex building and the Flood of 1993.
During that last event, she remembered residents lining the steps of the extension office to receive flood recovery assistance and establishing an after school youth program in Valmeyer.
She has also helped make such things as Harvest Night, the Baebler Educational Farm, the Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs, agriculture and natural resource education and nutrition and food safety training what they are today.
Even with all that, Jacobs found time to obtain a master’s in family consumer science from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Through all those – and other – initiatives and programs, Jacobs said there was one constant challenge: finances.
“The state funds have always been a challenge, just trying to maintain a high-quality program when the financial portion of it is uncertain,” she noted.
Jacobs overcame those obstacles throughout various eras of her career, all of which she looked back on fondly.
“During the time when we were just one county was probably the most satisfying because of building relationships with 4-H families, establishing the Master Gardener program and (growing) the ag program,” she said.
Although some of that may have been lost when the extension started serving three counties, Jacobs said the multi-county setup has brought its own benefits, chief among them the learning opportunity.
“I’ve learned a lot about how to make it work with the uniqueness of the three counties,” Jacobs said.
No matter how many counties she served, Jacobs said the favorite part of her career was the people she worked with.
“I’ve worked with great staff who are very dedicated to their positions and great volunteers who give a lot of time and support to the extension,” she said.
Jacobs also said seeing the benefits of the extension, watching youth grow up and seeing children of children she worked with come to 4-H were other highlights.
With all that behind her, Jacobs said it felt like the right time to retire – both for the extension and for her.
“It felt like it was a good time to let someone else have a great opportunity and bring in some new ideas,” she said. “And I’m ready.”
Jacobs said the university is going through its hiring process and will likely have her replacement selected by the middle of January.
Around that same time, people can celebrate Jacobs’ retirement with her during a party Jan. 12 in the fine arts building at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. The event is open to the public and goes from 2-6 p.m.
“I’d be glad to see people and thank them for their support,” Jacobs said.
After the retirement party, Jacobs said she is still deciding what she will do with her time. But she promised she will be around.
“I just want to keep busy and productive and be involved in different things in the community,” she said.