Cunningham retires from ExtensionWritten by Natasha Wheeler
After 38 years, UW Extension Educator and County Coordinator Ron Cunningham retired from his position in Fremont County.
“When I started, we didn’t have computers. Our newsletters went out on mimeograph, we didn’t have copy machines, and we didn’t have cell phones,” notes Cunningham. “When we went around the county or state, when we got to a town, we would have to stop and look for a payphone to contact people and make arrangements.”
Originally from Fremont County, Cunningham taught vocational agriculture in Nebraska for three years and then went to work as a manager on a ranch in Ten Sleep.
“After that, I came back to the county as a supervisor for Weed and Pest,” he adds.
Two years later, the acting director of Extension encouraged him to apply for a position with the program, and Cunningham began working in Riverton.
“I worked there for six years and then applied and transferred to Lander. I have been here for 32 years,” he says.
“Ron has an unquestionable commitment to the Extension mission of the University of Wyoming and engaging with people out in the communities around the state,” comments Kelly Crane, associate director of UW Extension.
Crane has worked with Cunningham as both a colleague and as his supervisor.
“He is very accomplished at bringing resources from the University to meet the needs of ag producers and youth in Fremont County and has been for over 30 years,” Crane continues.
Cunningham worked diligently to bridge the gap between producers and Extension educators as well as University faculty.
“That really fosters relevant research because faculty become aware of the issues and challenges that agricultural producers face out in the state,” says Crane.
Cunningham was able to foster relationships for applied research programs that met specific needs of Wyoming producers.
“Fremont County has been well-served by the University of Wyoming and a lot of that is attributable to Ron,” says Crane.
As an example of his influence, Cunningham was a leader for the UW component of the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) program, an informational network for land-grant universities and federal agencies to support communities in disaster response and mitigation.
“Ron has represented UW Extension in EDEN for many years and is probably best known for his leadership in emergency preparedness related to livestock disease and caring for livestock in natural disasters,” comments Director of UW Extension Director Glen Whipple.
Whipple also notes that Cunningham gave special attention to the sheep industry.
“He provided support for the sheep industry across the state, both in his emergency preparedness work as well as in his general work in Extension,” he says.
Young generations have also benefited from Cunningham’s work in Extension.
“He has invested a lot of effort both into agriculture and into youth,” Whipple notes. “He has been a great supporter of the Wyoming 4-H program and youth in Fremont County.”
“I always enjoyed and looked forward to working with the 4-H kids and taking them on national judging trips,” mentions Cunningham.
As a mentor, Cunningham supported his coworkers and newer program employees.
“He has been a real supporter of younger Extension professionals coming into the organization. He has mentored many of them as they have started their careers and then helped them as their careers have developed in Extension,” explains Whipple.
Crane echoes the sentiment, saying, “Ron has been a mentor for how people can develop an Extension program at a local level and be responsive to our customers’ needs.”
In addressing customer needs, Crane adds that Cunningham also adapted well to changes made to the structure of the Extension program.
“Late in his career, we went from county-based educators to more of an area-based delivery model and Ron adapted, made it work for him and continued great service to our clientele, being responsive to our customers and accountable to our partners,” Crane explains.
Cunningham comments that he finds it rewarding to be able to work with producers in other counties and put on different programs.
“I worked with WESTI Ag Days in Worland and when they didn’t have an educator up there, I kept it going for a few years. That was very rewarding,” Cunningham says.
He adds that Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days was one of the highlights of his career as well.
“We’ve had it going for over 30 years now, and it’s been very successful,” he comments.
Cunningham also participated in local beef management artificial insemination (AI) schools.
“We’ve had our AI schools going for 25 years, with the support of the Wyoming Honor Farm, the Riverton Livestock Auction and UW Extension specialists who come up to help teach,” he continues. “Those programs are definitely highlights.”
Crane comments, “Ron has been a great ambassador to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well the university as a whole.”
Cunningham explains that there have been many things that he has enjoyed over the years, saying it has been a lot of work but also a lot of fun.
“I’ve always had a lot of passion for Extension and working with people,” Cunningham says.