Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Dec. 12, 1997

Taking care of the community

by Anne Dolan

Sue Delaney describes her job as part sleuth, part teacher. A county extension education director for the last five years, Delaney spends her days -- and, often evenings -- uncovering what Monroe County residents need from ISU extension, and figuring out how to offer it to them. She has one full-time and four part-time staff members and an extension council to help get things done.

Delaney receives and sends dozens of e-mails every day, and assembles a list of people to call from her cellular phone any time she's going to be in her car for more than 20 minutes.

"The technology is a tremendous help," she said, "but it still boils down to talking to people."

There are the usual (and voluminous) youth and 4-H programs and ag programs. But there's lots more.

In Monroe County, 105 5- to 8-year-olds participate in a monthly "Clover Sprouts" hour that includes an activity or game, snack and craft. Forty women set aside seven evenings this fall to attend a financial information program tailored for women by American Association of Retired Persons.

Delaney also organizes a variety of Albia schools programs, including diversity awareness, "Marsville" (a simulated journey to Mars) and a nutrition program for third- and fourth-graders. This fall, she brought 12 Albia high school students to campus for an admissions tour.

She is on a seven-member statewide biotech team that sponsors a series of school labs, including how cheese is made, a DNA "crime camp," and a session on bioethics. In the latter, she said the team emphasizes not The Answer, but The Process. In 16 southeastern Iowa counties, more than 2,000 youth already have participated in the program.

"We encourage the kids to look at the pros and cons of a dilemma, argue their points and come to a decision, realizing there might not be one answer," Delaney said.

She estimates that at least 50 percent of her clients are children.

"The more you want something, the less it feels like work. That's the way I look at this," she said. " I see needs in this community. I hope we're making a difference."

Delaney said she wanted to move into extension work when she finished her bachelor's degree in animal science from Iowa State in 1979. Growing up in Rochester, Minn., she used the University of Minnesota's extension programs. "I thought it was a neat service for people in communities," she recalled.

But there were few women agriculturists at that time among the Iowa State extension ranks. So she raised hogs for 13 years instead. Her family owns 3,000 acres of mostly pasture and hay.

She and her husband, Steve Delaney, adopted six Korean children during those years, including two sets of siblings. This fall, the Delaney family includes two 15-year-olds, three 14-year-olds and a 10-year-old. September is an interesting month at the Delaney home.

"We have birthday cake three weekends in a row," she said.

In May, Delaney will wrap up 13 years of work on a master of agriculture degree from Iowa State. Since 1985, she has been taking classes via videotape. What started as interest in "taking a class or two" evolved into a distance degree program.

And there's still more. Delaney serves on a foster care review board in Monroe County. The group reviews foster child cases to make recommendations to juvenile court judges.

The Delaneys raise and butcher about 300 chickens every summer for their church's Labor Day dinner. The rural parish of 65 families serves a thousand people. Delaney said the process is well-refined . . . well, almost.

"Last year the chicks were delivered on April 7. We had snow on April 11 and 12, so we had to bring them inside. I had 300 chicks in my basement for 10 days," she recalled with a chuckle.

Time and some extra funding have given Delaney and her staff more freedom to identify needs and come up with appropriate programs. Monroe County voters approved an extension referendum in 1994 and county land valuations have risen in recent years. She said she hates to say no when a program request comes in, and about the only thing she categorically declines are medical-related programs.

"Sometimes, I just have to tell them I can't get to it for a few weeks or months," she said. "But I'll get to it."

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