PUBLISHED: 3:59 PM on Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Cooperative Extension Celebrates 75 Years of Service to Alaskans

Cooperative Extension Service, University of Alaska
  Lydia Fohn-Hansen (center), the first extension agent in the Alaskan Territory, taught food canning to the Matanuska colonists in the 1930s.
2005 marks the 75th anniversary for Cooperative Extension Service in Alaska. The Juneau District office will host an anniversary reception 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the House of Wickersham, 213 7th Street. The free event is open to the public.

Festivities will include live music, refreshments, free giveaways courtesy of the Extension Service and door prizes. Extension Service Director Tony Nakazawa will present award certificates to "Friends of the Extension."

A Bit of History

Under the 1862 Morrill Act, public land was donated in several states and territories to provide colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts. These institutions were termed Land Grant Colleges/Universities. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is the land grant university in Alaska.

The Alaska Cooperative Extension Service was established in 1930 under the leadership of Charles E. Burmell, first president of the University of Alaska. Without the dogged determination of one man, Judge James Wickersham, the establishment of a land-grant college in Alaska may never have come to pass. Early detractors to the idea seriously doubted the need for a college in the remote northern territory of Alaska, saying it was too cold and there weren't enough people. But Wickersham, who was the territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress, successfully lobbied for passage of legislation which won land-grant status for Alaska. On July 4, 1915, Wickersham dedicated a cornerstone on a hill outside of Fairbanks for what was to become the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines.

Who We Are

Cooperative Extension Service is an outreach educational delivery system supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, University of Alaska Fairbanks and College of Rural Alaska. Its mission: Take the university to the people by teaching practical skills and techniques to the public.

When Extension was established in the lower 48, beginning in 1914, most of the programs were focused on agriculture. However, as the country has evolved and people's needs have changed so, too, have the extension programs. There are three components: the 4-H program; the land resources program; and the home economics program.

4-H programs were once referred to as "kids and cows" because of the strong agricultural link. Today's 4-H focuses on such issues as community service, natural resources, and outdoor recreation.

"With approximately 75 club leaders, the 4-H program in Southeast Alaska serves nearly 600 youth in a variety of projects including cross country skiing and running, horsemanship, dog obedience, outdoor skills and survival, and knitting.

"The mission of 4-H is to build a world in which youth and adults learn, grow and work together as catalysts for positive change. This exemplifies the new emphasis on creating positive relationships between youth and adults," said Jim Davis, professor emeritus of extension, who served the Juneau district for more than 20 years.

Judy Covey, 4-H support personnel, said, "4-H programs are family oriented. Parents are encouraged to participate in assisting with clubs and in sharing skills and experiences with community youths."

The land resources programs in greatest demand today are in water quality, agriculture, horticulture and gardening. The Master Gardeners Program is a popular service.

Alaska's home economics programs are a mix of the old and the new. The influence of the subsistence lifestyle creates a demand for traditional programs, such as food preparation and preservation and sewing. However, changing lifestyles have created demand for programs in personal and family finance, parenting, healthy diets, technology and the home and work environments, and energy efficient housing.

"Home Economics in Alaska has recognized special needs in all lifestyles as we are a diverse cultural community," said Emma Widmark, retired Alaska home economist.

Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.