Jensen looks forward to retirementWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Lusk – For over two decades, Tammie Jensen and Denise Smith have worked together as the Niobrara County Extension team.
“We have been together for 21 years,” comments Smith, University of Wyoming Extension educator and county coordinator.
At the beginning of May, Jensen retired from her 34-year career with UW Extension.
“Tammie was in Uinta County first, then she worked in the state 4-H office and in Carbon County,” Smith says of her coworker’s history before getting to Niobrara County.
Jensen adds that she was involved in Extension prior to that as well, since her father Si West was an Extension educator as she grew up. Extension and the 4-H program have always been an important part of her life.
“My blood runs green,” says Jensen, noting that 4-H is an amazing program that develops unlimited lifelong skills for kids.
“It provides opportunities that a lot of other programs don’t provide, and I hope it will continue to grow, both in youth involvement and programming,” she comments.
Smith and Jensen have worked together with local youth for many years as the lone two Extension agents in Niobrara County.
“Tammie’s job was half agriculture and half 4-H. My job was half Family and Consumer Sciences and half 4-H. We did the 4-H program together,” Smith explains.
Together, Smith and Jensen organized events such as Achievement Day, the Halloween Carnival, county fair events and more.
“One of the things we did jointly that we both really enjoyed was the Junior Leader Club,” mentions Smith.
Each year, approximately 15 to 20 youth are involved in the Junior Leader Club, and each is required to do a minimum of one leadership project during the year.
“Projects range from helping younger 4-Hers with their livestock projects or sewing projects to taking on the Challenge Shoot,” Smith explains.
At the Challenge Shoot, members of the community are invited to a fundraiser shoot. Youth in the Junior Leader Club help to organize and conduct the event.
“When the big blizzard hit South Dakota, one of our members had kids in South Dakota write an essay about losing their 4-H project in the storm. The student then awarded two of those kids with a calf, so they would have a project,” Smith says.
Smith and Jensen also encourage young people in the Junior Leader Club to participate and apply for 4-H Congress, held in Atlanta, Ga., and the Citizenship trip, held in Washington, D.C.
“I would say about 90 percent of our students between ages 13 and 19 get to go to Washington, D.C. and nearly 50 percent of them get to go to Atlanta,” Smith adds.
The trips provide an incentive for Junior Leader Club participants to be active and contributing members of the program.
“The Junior Leader Club is one of our 4-H programs that we have worked on jointly that has been a true success,” Smith comments.
Jensen also worked with university staff and other Extension educators around the state.
“I was pretty involved in getting the Youth Quality Assurance Program up and going,” Jensen notes, adding that Wayne Tatman, Steve Paisley and others were also part of getting the program started.
“I also did research with Tom Whitson and Wayne Tatman. We did a project on Riddell groundsel and how to control it,” she explains.
Whitson was a professor of weed science at the University of Wyoming, and Tatman was an Extension educator in Goshen County who retired in 2008.
“We ended up going to Hawaii to present at the Western Society of Weed Science, which was a really amazing opportunity,” Jensen adds.
She also worked with Cole Ehmke, agriculture entrepreneurship and personal financial management specialist from the University of Wyoming, to start a program called Annie’s Project.
“That was a fun challenge,” states Jensen.
Annie’s Project was created to empower agricultural women by teaching them management and decision making skills.
Jensen recently received a national award recognizing her Annie's Project efforts.
“Wayne Tatman and I also did a project on the impact of judging programs for kids, both during the program and over their lifetimes,” Jensen adds.
The project gathered data from judging team participants from the 1950s through the 2000s, illustrating the positive impacts and life skills resulting from involvement in 4-H judging.
“Tammie’s strong suit was judging,” notes Smith. “She did meats judging, wool judging and livestock judging, and she won numerous awards with those kids.”
“I really enjoyed coaching judging teams and helping kids with their projects,” Jensen remarks. “I enjoy people, and I have made really good friends. A lot of really good people have touched my life, and I will miss the daily contact.”
Although she has retired from Extension, Jensen plans to stay involved as a 4-H mom and 4-H leader.
“Our team from Niobrara County won the state wool judging contest, so she will be taking those students to Sonora, Texas in June. From then on, she is already signed up to be a 4-H leader, so her capacity with 4-H will just change to a different role,” Smith explains.
Jensen looks forward to spending more time with her family, especially as her daughter completes her upcoming senior year of high school.
“I hope to be free to be a mom for a year and a half or so, until she goes off to school. I would really like to be the mom and the wife,” Jensen says.
Smith notes that working with 4-H through Extension sometimes means missing some of their own kids’ activities.
“I know Tammie is very excited to start this new chapter of her life, and she is excited to do all of those school things with her daughter,” she explains. “I am really excited for her.”
“I loved every moment of my career. I appreciate all of the people that have provided support and helped me along the way,” states Jensen. “It’s been an amazing ride.”