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Allen Ricks looking forward to next stage in life

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 05/26/2011 3:32 PM

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WATERLOO, Iowa —Allen Ricks is looking forward to the next stage in his life. He retired last month as Region 9 Director for Extension, and before that was Black Hawk County Extension director.

Ricks, 60, said both his grandfathers and his mother died in their 60s, "and my wife, Donna, and I decided that the things we talked about doing in life, maybe we better be about doing."

The couple owns an acreage near Grinnell where they are building a home. They plan to move in June. The new home will be closer to their daughter, her husband and their two children who are 3 and 1 1/2.

"I want to be a grandpa," Ricks said.

Ricks has taught religion, philosophy and business classes at Upper Iowa University, which has a campus in Waterloo, and he will continue teaching. He will also tend a garden and landscape the yard of his new home.

When Ricks took the job with Black Hawk County Extension in 2006, the county needed to pass a referendum to increase the maximum levy rate used to fund county programs.

"Much of 2006 involved the election initiative campaign, and we were successful with a huge thanks to a whole raft of volunteers," Ricks said.

Among the funding priorities, set by key Extension constituents, were to expand horticulture programs and strengthen youth programming particularly in urban areas.

A horticulturist was hired and out of that grew a project with the Waterloo schools and the Young Family Foundation that resulted in the Dick Young Greenhouse being built as part of the new Carver Academy, a Waterloo middle school. The greenhouse is staffed by Extension horticulturist Bryan Foster, and the facility serves the schools, community and county.

"The greenhouse truly serves all the people in Black Hawk County," Ricks said. "All our Master Gardener classes happen out of the greenhouse. From being an idea on paper to becoming reality occupied about three years of work by a lot of people."

About the time the greenhouse project took shape, federal and state budget cuts forced the restructuring of ISU Extension.

"That was very challenging, but I honestly believe that our leaders in Extension would rather have done anything other than what they did," Ricks said. "For Extension to survive, they had to make some really hard decisions. They moved the administration from the county to a regional basis."

The past two years Ricks has helped the six counties in Region 9 determine what they want Extension to look like.

"There was no recipe, each county was given a lot of freedom," Ricks said. "County leaders said they wanted a strong Extension presence, and each county found a way to make that happen."

Bill Arndorfer serves Butler and Grundy counties as Extension educator. Ron Lenth is coordinator in Bremer County. Amy Kelly is outreach coordinator/bookkeeper in Buchanan County, and Frank Albertsen is coordinator in Tama County. In Black Hawk County, Rod Hamer is office manager/agriculture educator, and Michelle Temeyer is community education liaison.

What stands out most as Ricks reflects on his time with Extension is the work with young people.

"Last summer I was at each of the county fairs in Region 9, and I remember watching all the young people having fun, achieving their goals and seeing the satisfaction that comes from the process," Ricks said. "That took me back to my days as a 4-H member, and Milt Henderson (Extension youth specialist) doing what he could to make that happen."