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Two longtime extension leaders will retire next week

Mary Duncomb, left, and Jayne Hager Dee both expect to stay involved with Dakota County's 4-H program as volunteers.

Things will be a lot different around the University of Minnesota's Extension office Dakota County in next week, because two familiar faces will be gone.

Extension regional director Jayne Hager Dee and Extension educator Mary Duncomb both retire next week. Hager Dee's last day is Monday. Duncomb will leave her position two days later.

Hager Dee came to Dakota County in 1998, hired initially as the county extension director. Over the 13 years of her service, Hager Dee's role has expanded to that of regional director, with responsibilities to oversee extension programs, staff and operations in Dakota, Freeborn, Goodhue, Mower, Rice and Steele counties.

"I make sure we have enough money to make the programs run," Hager Dee said Tuesday. "Mary makes the programs run."

And so she has. For 34 years, Mary Duncomb has been the primary contact for all things 4-H in Dakota County. Duncomb is wrapping up a full 40 years as an extension educator, having spent her first six years in Swift and then Scott counties. She came to Dakota County in the fall of 1978, and has guided the area's 4-H program ever since.

In 2004, the University of Minnesota Extension moved to a regional model, and Duncomb's role expanded to cover Dakota, Goodhue and Washington counties. While it's easy to think of 4-H as just part of the county fair, Duncomb has made it much more.

Duncomb introduced the Youth Teaching Youth program in Dakota County in 1986. Youth Teaching Youth puts high school students into elementary schools, where they teach younger students about subjects like alcohol, seat belt safety and bullying.

The two women have seen changes in many areas of their careers - everything from going computerized to the way extension reaches families. The programs have grown in both quantity and quality, though more and more have relied on volunteers.

"I don't know if I would like to work with an organization where everything stays the same," Hager Dee said. "Don't think we've been doing the same job for all of these years."

Hager Dee admits her job was probably not as exciting as Duncomb's. Hager Dee sat in on meetings, made phone calls, balanced financial books and handled staff issues. All of what she did, though, she did for the students and the residents who were learning new skills through extension programs like the Master Gardeners, various agriculture programs and even nutrition programs.

The difference between Hager Dee's role and Duncomb's is that as an educator, Duncomb was the one who was executing some of those programs. Naturally, 4-H at the county fair is the most visible part of Duncomb's role, but to her way of thinking, the county fair was only "the icing on the cake."

As an educator, Duncomb worked with students. She was there to guide them through programs that taught things like public speaking, record keeping and leadership skills. She's had to adapt those programs with the changing times, constantly figuring out how to present the information in ways that will both benefit and interest kids.

Saying goodbye

Over the course of her career, Duncomb has influenced the lives of two or three generations of kids through 4-H and other education programs. In this last full week of work, she's come across hundreds of old photos while cleaning out her office space.

"I've been doing a lot of going through boxes and I have to agree, Memory Lane is fun," Duncomb said. "One of the things about 4-H is that we take a lot of photos. I just have to smile when I sit and remember some of those old times."

Hager Dee is having her own stroll down Memory Lane, only hers is by way of notes and memos from years gone by.

What happens next week, though, remains to be seen.

"I don't know that either of us can see ourselves not employed here," Hager Dee said.

For her part, Hager Dee thinks maybe she'll start reading the morning newspaper in the morning and being able to visit her 95-year-old mother more often. Duncomb mentioned taking walks whenever she wants to. Beyond that, neither knows what they'll be doing in six weeks, but both have the desire to volunteer.

Both Duncomb and Hager Dee were in 4-H in their youth. Duncomb grew up in Dakota County's 4-H program, while Hager Dee was in a 4-H program in suburban Illinois. They are retiring from the University of Minnesota Extension, which oversees 4-H. So really, it comes as little surprise that they've both got an interest in volunteering in 4-H, and probably a few other programs. To date, Hager Dee serves as chair of the Northfield Charter Commission and secretary of the Minnesota Public Radio Twin Cities Community Advisory Council.

"I've discovered that I don't even recognize all the skills I've developed here," Duncomb said. "Looking forward, I see new challenges, new opportunities. That's what I think is out there."

Duncomb is a resident of rural Hastings. Hager Dee lives in Northfield.

A retirement celebration for Duncomb and Hager Dee was held Thursday. The celebration also honors two more retirees, Barbara Sorensen, a 32-year employee, and Rita Colchin, a 14-year employee.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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