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Allen Ricks reflects on years with Extension

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

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

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WATERLOO, Iowa — Passing the Extension levy referendum and building the Dick Young Greenhouse at Carver Academy are among the accomplishments that stand out as Allen Ricks reflects on his years with Iowa State University Extension.

Ricks retired last month after serving as Black Hawk County director and then as Region 9 Extension director.

"The values of soil stewardship and education that I learned as an Iowa farm boy growing up in Afton have guided me through my career," Ricks said.

Ricks was a nine-year member of the Union Royal Rustlers 4-H Club and served on the county 4-H council and attended state activities.

"My 4-H leader Bob McElroy and the regional youth specialist Milt Henderson clearly demonstrated for me the meaning of Extension at an early age, helping people become more than they are," Ricks said.

He graduated from Morningside College in Sioux City with a major in religion and minors in German, English and music. He was in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia for a year after college.

"I worked with the Afar tribe teaching basic agricultural skills," Ricks said.

The mid-1970s were a time of great turmoil in Ethiopia, and Ricks had to leave the country before his two-year stint was up, although he developed lifelong friendships with some of the people he met.

He went to seminary at the University of Dubuque. He married his wife, Donna, and served 17 years as a United Methodist minister in Clinton and Hudson. In the United Methodist Church, pastors are assigned to parishes by the bishop, and when he was asked to move to another parish, he chose to stay in Hudson and look for other employment.

"Donna had a good teaching job at Dike-New Hartford and our daughter, Sarah, was attending a good school at Hudson," Ricks said.

He received a master of business administration at the University of Northern Iowa while working as a chaplain at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo. After earning his degree from UNI, he worked for People's Community Health Clinic raising the money to build its new facility in Waterloo, was executive director of the Covenant Health Systems Foundations and also did administrative work.

Ricks got involved with Black Hawk County Extension when Sarah joined 4-H, and Donna became a 4-H volunteer.

"4-H tends to be a family activity, and before long I was volunteering, too," Ricks said. "That led to me being asked to run for the Extension Council."

He was on the Black Hawk County Extension Council for seven years. In 2006, he was asked if he might consider the Black Hawk County Extension director post. He applied for and was hired. Three years later Extension announced a restructuring plan that eliminated county director positions.

"When the dust settled, I was Region 9 Extension director serving Black Hawk, Buchanan, Butler, Bremer, Grundy and Tama counties," Ricks said. "Extension was thrown into a very difficult transition period. We went through a grief process, and my training as a pastor was useful in helping people move forward."

Two years later, Ricks said, things are stable. Extension's future looks bright, and it's time for a new regional director to step in and build on that foundation.