Extension celebrates 100 years

By Bryan Boccelli

The University of Illinois Extension is on its way to celebrating its 100-year anniversary and is recognizing how much the program has enhanced youth, family and community well-being across the state. 

The Extension program is the University’s community-based outreach arm. Illinois Extension offers educational programs across the state in five broad areas: healthy society, food security and safety, environmental stewardship, sustainable and profitable food production, and marketing systems, said Sandra Davis, county extension director for DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties.

This centennial celebration kicked off earlier this year in honor of the program’s success in communities across Illinois throughout the last century.

“Extension played an important role in many major events in our history — from the adoption of hybridized corn to the start of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program to the introduction of Telenet, the first distance-learning system,” Davis said.

The program began in 1913 and has continued to grow into a focal point in many communities throughout the state.

The University of Illinois Extension has 27 units statewide, each composed of a few counties.

“In DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties, we strive to not only provide educational opportunities but also community outreach and activities,” Davis said. 

She said the Extension may have its roots in the rural agricultural community, but it has spread its wings to serve suburban and urban audiences as well. 

“Today, our local unit serves DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties, which are three diverse communities that all have evolved over the last several decades, and our programming has changed to meet current needs,” she said.

The program came from humble beginnings and has developed into a way for communities to collaborate in many ways. Tony Franklin, extension director for Henry, Stark, Mercer and Rock Island counties, said some of his unit’s accomplishments include bringing campus research to farmers in local counties through various expositions and conventions, as well as offering other tests and workshops.

The program has helped transform the lives of citizens across the state not only agriculturally but also academically.

“The centennial anniversary of University of Illinois Extension is significant because of its rich history. From its meager beginnings of two farm advisers, it grew to an organization that has been a vital link between the citizens of Illinois and its land-grant university,” Franklin said. “Its delivery network is second to none in disseminating cutting-edge, nonbiased research-based information through educational programs designed to help citizens improve their lives.”

Illinois Extension has influenced people’s lives through academics, agriculture, food security and more, Franklin said.

The program’s website explains that most Extension programs are offered on an informal, non-credit basis, but the program does offer continuing education credits in some fields of study. Extension programs may be offered as hands-on workshops, field days, self-paced tutorials on the Internet or in other formats.

“All in all, Extension has contributed to making Illinois a better place,” Franklin said.

Bryan can be reached at [email protected]