Dawn Olson, retiring county extension director for Monroe County, was feted at a surprise farewell gathering in her honor to which only a skunk story could bring her, along with the trickery of friends, extension board members, conniving colleagues, and the cooperation of her husband Bob.
Her friend Marie Lohman, explained how at the event honoring Olson's 38 years of service to Monroe County and beyond.
During the evening, many spoke of Olson's decades of service, her leadership, and her commitment to the extension and its programs.
"On behalf of the advisory board, we extend to Dawn our heartfelt thanks for decades of exemplary service, not only to the people of our county, but to our state as well," Dr. Doug Arnold, Brodheadsville, current president of the Extension Board.
"She leaves a terrific void to be filled. The far-reaching effects of her leadership and service have touched so many in so many ways. The importance of Cooperative Extension can be readily seen through all that she has done to make our community better," Arnold added.
His words were echoed by Rick Hacket, longtime Extension Board member and past president of the board, and others.
Sue Oiler, from Quiet Valley, current Extension Board secretary, shared how she had Olson in her class years ago.
"When I came to Bangor Junior High School as a very young teacher, I was delighted to have Dawn as a model student for two years," said Oiler.
"She was enthusiastic and energetic and though I was unable to locate the letter, she wrote me a lovely thank you note after I had given her some special help with a project. I am excited about all the accomplishments that she has made in Monroe County. I often refer to her as my 'claim to fame' since I was her teacher. I have enjoyed working with her as a board member of Cooperative Extension."
The accolades Olson received included a citation from the Monroe County Commissioners, as presented by Commissioner Suzanne McCool.
"It was a privilege working with her over many years," said McCool, "as she is and has been totally dedicated and committed to the PSU Cooperative Extension Service for 38-plus years."
The Certificate of Special Recognition was signed by the three commissioners, and is now a permanent part of the county's archives.
"I felt very blessed by the special recognition and appreciated so many kind words and best wishes," Olson said in response to the event.
"There have been so many special people that have touched my life through this job. I'm grateful for a job that I have loved. I've learned as much as I've taught," she added.
"I loved that my job was never the same each day; it was always changing and challenging."
Olson recalled the late Dick Seidof of Sciota, who told her about the job opening the spring she graduated from college.
What she won't miss, she admits, are "the night meetings, always hauling something in my car for meetings, writing up reports."
She will definitely miss "working with so many wonderful people in the county trying to help individuals and families improve their lives."
She said she looks forward to more time with family and friends, traveling, quilting, and relaxing mornings. Olson anticipates doing more volunteer work with her church and community.
"I thoroughly enjoyed working with many 4-H leaders and members, watching their progress through the teen years and the 4-H system of opportunities," said Olson.
Some of the highlights of her other achievements include the Nutrition Carnivals for elementary schools, which received national recognition by the National Potato Board for community education; bringing national speakers to the county to share program expertise at workshops; and, just this last November, having Dr. Miriam Nelson, founder of the Strong Women Program, in Monroe County to work with 15 women in the Change Club.
"In the early 1980s, with more women in the workforce, Monroe Extension was one of the first counties to print a child care directory for families," said Olson. "Extension then started offering training for child care workers which we continue to do today."
Olson says she "always loved working on the annual holiday program," a program which was started by her predecessor, but cuts necessitated dropping it two years ago.
As Olson's life changes, so does Extension. Her duties are now part of the responsibilities of a four-county Extension district director.