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Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for Hamilton County marks 100 years of service

— Photo courtesy Iowa State University Extension and Outreach In the early 1920s, women gather around to learn about making homemade dress forms. After the series of demonstrations, the women attending in turn taught other women the skill.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for Hamilton County is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2017.

Hamilton County Extension Service has long been the go-to source for information about horticulture, food and nutrition, managing finances and farm-related topics. In the early days, Extension personnel gave demonstrations around the county as farmers clamored to hear about the latest innovations in crop production and women gathered to learn about making dress forms or home-canning techniques.

County residents looking for more information often found it the form of educational and informational publications and pamphlets. The local extension office had rows and rows publications lining the walls on everything from tree pruning to ideas for easier homemaking.

These days, most of those publications are available to consumers online.

“We still have some publications on hand, but many of them, we can order for you or you can order or download them at home,” said Sue Schmitz, program coordinator with Hamilton County Iowa State Extension and Outreach.

The role of extension’s experts have changed as well. While they still provide educational opportunities and seminars to county residents, the focus has changed a bit.

“What’s changed for us, is we’ve gone from generalists to specialists,” said Barb Wollan, a human sciences specialist in family finance. “In 1992, that changed. At the time, some counties had their own home economist and others shared with neighboring counties.”

Wollan said that as part of that move, three specialties were established for the home economists — nutrition, family life and family finance. Malisa Rader is a human sciences specialist in family life and Holly VanHeel provides expertise in nutrition and wellness.

“We kind of let go of anything we did with textiles and clothing, fibers and housing, interior design,” she said, adding that information on those topic areas is still available through the ISU answer line. Hotlines are also available to help with questions about horticulture and gardening, teen personal and health problems, and resources for beginning farmers.

The biggest changes for all of the program areas, according to Wollan, are in the needs of their audience.

“In the early days, women’s work was making the home run smoothly and that was critical,” she said. “And now, what they need from us has changed.”

On the agriculture side, experts in agronomy, livestock, farm management and commercial horticulture are available for those seeking information or answers to questions.

Schmitz said there are even staff members available who can help identify an unusual bug or insect that may be buzzing around the back yard.

The Extension and Outreach also offers training for those wishing to become certified to apply pesticides or manure applications.

All of the services available from the extension service can be found on the organization’s website, www.extension.iastate.edu/hamilton/. Even Spanish-speaking consumers can find answers and materials. A button on the website lets visitors select whether they would like to read the information in English or in Spanish.

The 4-H program also falls under the umbrella of the Extension and Outreach Service. Cheryll Entriken is the current county youth coordinator. Members from 4-H Clubs throughout Hamilton County take part in a variety of project areas, communications events and leadership opportunities.

A look back …


The Hamilton County Extension service began in in 1917, following the creation of its sponsoring organization, Farm Bureau. Chris Christensen was hired as the new county agent, what is now known as the extension director, on Nov. 24, 1917.

Obtaining good germinating seed corn for area farmers was the big project for the county agent and the Farm Bureau in that initial year. Christensen spent 129 days on the road, traveling more than a thousand miles by auto and 242 via train to find enough good seed for Hamilton County farmers to plant in the spring of 1918.


“This seemed to be the year that ‘organization’ work got into full gear,” said Lynn Habben, former extension director, in his 1967 history of the extension service. F.A. Huddleston served as president of the 110 member Livestock Breeders Association and 200 members were involved with the Wool Growers Association. J.E. Young was president of the Beekeepers Organization which had 20 members. The Hamilton County Exposition was headed by Bob Speilman with 200 members, and Huddleston was the secretary of the Hamilton County Sales Pavilion Company


Soybeans were fairly new as a crop, but in 1922 there were 300 farmers who raised the crop. Mauchn soybeans were determined to be the best variety for Hamilton County growers.


Cheese-making demonstrations were held in nine townships of Hamilton County. The demonstrations were held on the training school plan — meaning that township leaders were taught so they could in turn teach those in their districts. Two-hundred ten pounds of cheese were made as a result of the demonstrations, according to accounts. Most of the women made two or three 10-pound cheeses during the winter and cured it for summer use.


A milestone was reached in 1934 as 4-H Clubs were organized on a township basis rather than as county clubs for the projects carried. Organizing clubs at the township level brought in 72 new 4-H members.

This year, the Hamilton County 4-H Band performed at the International Livestock Exhibition and the National Club Congress, as well as concerts in Alden, Clarion, Fort Dodge, Blairsburg, Blue Earth, Minnesota, the Hamilton County Fair and the All-County Club Party.

County officers for the boys’ 4-H clubs for 1934 were Robert Huddleston, president, Dwight Calkins, vice president, Jack McMartin, treasurer and Dean Christeson, secretary.


The county corn husking contest was held in October 1937 on the Gail Groves Farm in Hamilton Township. Archie Amundson bested the 10 contestants with 2,107.72 pounds of picked corn in the allotted 80 minutes.

It was estimated that 2,000 people attended the contest.


The grand champion steer at the Hamilton County Fair was a 950 pound Shorthorn shown by Oliver Hill of Liberty Township. It sold for $35.25 per hundredweight.


A full-time fertilizer plot was established at the R.E. Downs farm and a fertilizer and corn variety plot was conducted on the Russell Bergeson farm. Two soil conservation demonstrations were set up in the county and there was discussion about establishing a soil conservation district in Hamilton County.


Hamilton County women requested and were chosen to have an exhibit at the State Fair. The display on home grounds improvement was called “Stay at Home and Like It” and depicted an outdoor living room complete with running water in a small pool and a shrub background.


The second annual Young Farmers Conference was held in February, jointly sponsored by the Hamilton County Bankers Association and the Extension Service. Each bank send four young farm couples to the two-day school.


A new addition to the Hamilton County Fairgrounds was an all new metal livestock pavilion. The building cost about $17,000 to erect. More than half of that amount was raised by 4-H leaders and other contributors in the county.


The National Farm Progress Show, also dubbed the World’s Fair of Agriculture, was held at the Everett Smith farm north of Blairsburg for three days in September. An estimated 300,000 people visited the venue during the show. Several dignitaries from Russia attended the show to study American farming practices.

Extension Directors

1967-1989 Lynn Habben

1989-1991 Ralph Mayer

1992-2003 Bertha Shaw

-2009 Dr. David Brown

Regional Extension Director

Jerry Chizek


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