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​​Look What We Have Accomplished!

Editor’s note: April Mason earned a master's degree in plant physiology in 1980 and a doctorate in foods and nutrition in 1984 from Purdue University. She served as assistant director of Extension and associate dean of the School of Consumer and Family Sciences (now the College of Health and Human Sciences). She served Purdue Extension from 1984-2004. She was the recipient of the Purdue Distinguished Agricultural Alumni Award in 2005.


Keynote address by April C. Mason
Provost and Senior Vice President, Kansas State University


April Mason
April Mason

Anniversaries are wonderful things. They allow us to celebrate an event of the past that had much significance, one that we want to remember and honor. At the time of an anniversary, we look back at the event, take stock of what has happened since and reevaluate for the future. I commend the Indiana Extension Homemaker Association for commemorating their founding in 1913, using this 100th Home and Family conference to celebrate what happened 100 years ago, and the celebration to think of the relevance of IEHA today and think forward to the future of this vital and important state and local county and club organization.

Anniversaries always get us to thinking both of the past and of the future. Wedding anniversaries include looking at the wedding pictures and giggling at the fashions and the different waist diameters shown there. Birthdays, an anniversary of birth, are great fun until about 25, when society has brought into play the black balloon and RIP party themes. I say we should revolt against black balloons.

While helping the president of Kansas State University celebrate his 50th birth anniversary just last month, I told him that my 50s had thus far been wonderful years—I was gifted with two, and soon to be three granddaughters, a son-in-law and daughter-in-law and was quite happy with what the decade was still bringing.

Another anniversary occurred on this campus about four years ago. My husband Frank and I were at Purdue in July 2009. Perhaps you know where I am going. I took Frank to the Neil Armstrong building as he had not seen it yet. We were standing at the stature of student Neil Armstrong and looking at the moon boot footprints in the grass, (those really get me) when an Indianapolis TV reporter came over and asked if he could interview me. Sure, I said. A few questions about what I had been doing and where I had been when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. This was a very significant anniversary to remember and celebrate. Then I was asked if I was a Purdue graduate. Yes, I proudly said. Then, the surprise: Were you here in school when Neil Armstrong was here? Insert very long pause here! Mr. Armstrong, who died nearly a year ago, was 79 in 2009. I, on the other hand, was 53. But, the polished university administrator that I am, I simply said no. I wanted to scream—he is 25 years older than me, can’t you tell that! Anniversaries can also be stressful.

The anniversary of an organization—the 100th especially, is a big event. Not all organizations are so fortunate as to celebrate their 100th. For the values, mission and structure of an organization to still be relevant 100 years after its founding is very significant.

The mission of the Indiana Extension Homemakers is to strengthen families through continuing education, leadership development and volunteer community support. The Extension Homemaker Creed tells why this organization is still vital after 100 years: We believe in the present and its opportunities, in the future and its promises, in everything that makes life large and lovely, in the divine joy of living and helping others, and so we endeavor to pass on to others that which has benefited us, striving to go onward and upward, reaching the pinnacle of economic perfection, in improving, enlarging and endearing the greatest institution in the world—the Home.

The Home—shelter, community, caring, growing, learning, nourishment, support. Homes look different today than they did 100 years ago. More are found in suburban and urban areas but are still in rural areas. Homes have different organizations of people and relationships in some cases, but the home is still relevant, vital and important to each person’s wellbeing today.

From the beginning in January 1913, the Indiana Home Economics Association began with the forethought of Mary Matthews and Virginia Meredith. Home Economics clubs were formed and education was provided, as well as social activities. IHEA was a lobbying group for women, for Extension and for home economics: a lobbying group of great importance. I know during my time in Indiana we asked IEHA members to call or write their representatives regarding important legislative support for Extension. Only a few weeks ago in Kansas, we did the very same thing as the Kansas House was considering significant funding cuts.

I was able to hear the Melody Makers of Indiana and am indeed grateful to Linda Pouly for her wonderful book The Singing Farm Women of Rural Indiana, written to celebrate the 75th anniversary of choral groups in Extension Homemaker clubs. This wonderful history describes the creativity, independence, leadership, willingness to explore, the empowerment and the ultimate transformation possible for rural women enjoying music together. Childcare programs were developed so choral members could travel by train to Washington, D.C. to sing for presidents; leadership was developed in women as they participated in this program. Social outlets were provided also. I have heard tales of parties in the Union Club and the residence halls during the Home and Family conference. What a partnership between Purdue University, Extension and the Homemaker groups.

Angie Abbott was so kind to send me a copy of Angie Klink’s book Divided Paths, Common Ground. My office here at Purdue was in Matthews Hall, named after Mary Matthews, and I was so proud to display the restored portrait of Lella Gaddis that still hangs in Mathews Hall. Klink has a wonderful quote about the home from Professor Emma Gunther from the foreword to the Home Management House Conference of 1926, 13 years after the founding of IEHA: We have universalized the machine as a servant. If this has increased the pace of life, it has at least saved us from the routine of drudgery. All this concern about time schedules is only by way of attaining a higher end. The ultimate purpose is to save the homemaker the time and energy needed for more expressive living.

Well, well. I agree with Ms. Klink; this could have been written today. When the increased pace of life and concern about time schedules includes syncing calendars on your PDA, posting on Facebook and clearing emails, all while listening to podcasts on your iPod. I have conversations with the grand girls by face time on iPhones. The jury is still out in my opinion as to whether technology has given us the time and energy for more expressive living.

It does seem we have the same or similar issues today as we had in the last century—new technologies, food-safety issues, concern for the safe and healthy development of our children, financial management, stress and recovery from natural disaster. We have more sources of information today than in 1913, but who better to provide information than those familiar with the community, working with residents, tailoring messages to be relevant to Rush, Marion, Pulaski, Kosciusko or Clark counties. Oh, sorry, I wasn’t recognizing Clark County when I left Indiana. I said instead of 92 counties there were only 91. I had a car accident going to Clark County and a flat tire coming back from Clark County during my Extension years. I just got the impression I wasn’t welcome there, but perhaps it is time to bury that! Clark County, I want you back!

What are the relevant issues of the IEHA today?

Let’s start with stress. When droughts ravage agricultural lands, when tornadoes rip a community apart, and when floods cover communities and farmland alike, stress is bound to be high as families regroup, assess damage, balance resources and try to rebuild. Extension and Extension Homemakers are there to help assess options, provide information to access necessary resources and lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on.

Health and wellbeing is second on my list. Health and wellbeing are important emphasis areas to the Extension Homemakers. I commend you for the continued long relationship with the In Shape program, Riley Children’s hospital, the Ronald McDonald House and the Purdue Cancer Center. Riley pinafores, preemie caps, newborn quilts, tote bags, puppy pillows—you have seen the smiles on faces of those receiving these thoughtful handmade items. I also commend you for your foundation fund for the Purdue Cancer Center, how proactive to provide resources for research to stop this horrible disease. Who among us has not been touched by an ill child or a diagnosis of cancer to ourselves or to a loved one? The Extension and Purdue families have reached out to me personally on many occasions to give support and assistance.

Only five years after the loss of our own Ann Hancook, friend, leader, Extension foundation, a victim of breast cancer, I was sitting in her chair as assistant director of Extension, associate dean of the School of Consumer and Family Sciences and had my own diagnosis of breast cancer. The outreach to my husband and me from this extended family was a gift I will not forget. Speaking of anniversaries—15 years since cancer diagnosis and doing great.

Financial management is next. Financial management continues to be a great outreach of Extension and Extension Homemakers. I am so pleased to see the continued work in the financial area to lower income families, young people and newly transitioned individuals dealing with death of divorce. (At Kansas State, we have the PowerCat financial program. At Kansas State everything is either Purple or Powercat—insert Black and Gold, or Purdue Pete.) For college students with debt, needing to understand a budget plan and away from home for the first time, this program is essential. How did I learn budgeting and financial planning, experience and family? Extension steps in to help when family may not be there to teach.

Nutrition and food security is next. I read with interest the 100 things IEHA members could do to celebrate the centennial—collect cans for the food pantry, sort food at Food Finders, hold a food drive to support the Back Pack program. The IEHA continues to reach out to those less fortunate. Heather Eicher Miller gave a talk earlier today on food insecurity. It is hard for most of us to imagine not knowing from where our next meal will come, but this is a reality for too many. The summer months now upon us, those children dependent on school lunch and breakfast programs face a long summer break. Thank you for your continued outreach in the food security area.

Leadership development continues to be a foundation of the IEHA. We have a School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State. The Leadership Studies undergraduate minor is the largest at our university. The leadership skills our students learn while studying, doing service learning, and domestic and international service field trips is life changing. I am proud that the iLead program is still strong here for IEHA. Its relevance now is greater than ever.

Food safety and nutrition are pretty near and dear to my heart. I see both of these topics as strong emphases in this year’s Home and Family Conference program book, with talks on food preservation and bone and joint health. We learn more every year about the effect of nutrition and exercise on health. I chose a great discipline to study when I went to graduate school. We will never run out of new findings and their relation to our daily growth and development, prevention of chronic disease and healthier aging—more of an issue for me, especially since I look like I went to school at Purdue when Neil Armstrong was here!

I’ll add two more categories to my list as your program spends some good sessions on them and your founders did as well—technology and change. YouTube and a whole session on new technologies of the Cloud and cookies appear in your program book. Remember when a cloud was in the sky, and a cookie was something to accompany milk? Wake up baby, technology is developing at a rapid rate!

Change is a good one to address right after technology, but change is bigger than technology, change is a departure from what we have known. Change is a new venture, a step into the void. Some people embrace change; some worry and push back on it. Some are angered and frustrated by change. For those of us who have been around the block a few times, we see change as a recycling. The last two years, I have had to spend two days in commencement exercises worrying if all the coeds will safely traverse the graduation stage without falling off their platform, stiletto heels. In May 2012 I wrote a letter to campus right after commencement, describing all the wonderful speakers and celebrations I had experienced. I could not keep from writing two postscripts I thought this group would appreciate:

P.S. One guilty pleasure of commencement: footwear watching. I may need to go shoe shopping. Can a six-foot-tall provost wear platform six-inch heels? Never mind, I think I know the answer.

And secondly, to a person you know from Purdue who currently serves as the head basketball coach for our men’s team:

P.S.S.: Coach Weber, I parked in your space behind Bramlage all day. I thought you would understand… There was no other place to park for a fully robed provost late for the next commencement, after flying from one venue at one end of campus to another.

Change can be positive and negative, but it will come. Being prepared for it, addressing it head on and dealing with it are ways of making its effect less detrimental to everyone. Embracing change is great, but even positive change is stressful, and we all need to acknowledge that.

I was taken aback about a year ago when I realized my assistant had sent an old copy of my introduction to a student group. I was introduced as having graduated from Mount Union College. Yes, I did, but it is now University of Mount Union. I got my Ph.D. in the Department of Foods and Nutrition. Yes, now called Nutrition Science. I was a faculty member and administrator in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences. Yes, but it became a college shortly after I left Purdue and is now the College of Health and Human Sciences. I was the dean of the College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University, and it became the College of Health and Human Sciences also.

Change, it is a happenin’.

The topics of the College of Health and Human Sciences and Health and Human Sciences Extension are as critical for us today as they were 20, 40, 75 or 100 years ago. We have new knowledge and strategies we must learn and employ, and the family continues to need the insight of our discovery.

You know, this has been a time for key anniversary celebrations related to our universities and Extension. Last summer, both Dean Ladisch and I were in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act. Thank goodness Justin Morrill from Vermont was tenacious. His first try to get the act passed did not succeed. But Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 into law on July 2, 1862, while the Civil War raged. This is the act that led to our land-grant universities being formed. Along with the Hatch and Smith-Lever acts, the three land-grant university missions of learning, discovery and engagement were established.

We gathered in Washington, D.C., along with colleagues from land-grant universities all over our country and territories to commemorate this defining legislation. University presidents, chancellors, vice presidents, deans and many others came together at the Reagan Building to remember, celebrate and be challenged. The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities put on the celebration, even commissioning a book edited by Daniel Mark Fogel and Elizabeth Malson-Huddle called Precipice or Crossroads? Where America’s Great Public Universities Stand and Where They Are Going Midway Through Their Second Century.

A man portraying Justin Smith Morrill read the legislation, Bill Gates spoke to the group, U.S. Secretary Vilsack (Agriculture) and Secretary Duncan (Education) addressed us, and two Morrill relatives—both young graduates of a land-grant university—participated in panels. I wore the 150th anniversary lapel pin with pride and realized as we celebrated, I had been part of the land-grant system for 35 of its 150-year history.

The land-grant system was established to provide educational access to the common people of our country, not the elite. Its curriculum was originally based on agriculture and the mechanical arts (engineering). My Kansas State University, our Purdue University and other public land-grant universities have changed since their establishment, but we still hold firm to providing students access to obtain an education that will help them be successful, whatever they choose to do, discovering new knowledge that will help our society and taking the knowledge of the university to the community.

Precipice or crossroads? I came back from D.C. thinking hard about that. I have to think it is a crossroads. We will feel new strains but will have the capacity to address them. I know we are up to the challenge. I think the Indiana Extension Homemakers Association membership is up to the challenges of the present and the future. Is IEHA at the precipice or the crossroads? Again, I think the crossroads.

With our knowledge and abilities, I am convinced we can make adjustments, rethink the way we have been doing things, and adapt to the new issues of today’s society to be even better for the future. We must. There are opportunities today that we can and will take advantage of if we don’t forget our foundation of helping people learn, discovering new knowledge and engaging with communities to use that knowledge.

I won’t be around for the bicentennial celebration of the Morrill Land-Grant Act, or the sesquicentennial of IEHA, but those who follow us will be. They will thank us for being innovative and learning from history while creating the future. We have a great responsibility.

Shortly after the 150th celebration of the Morrill Act, my own Kansas State University, the first land-grant university (regardless of what Iowa State says) began its 150th anniversary celebrations. What fun we have had digging into the history, rediscovering facts and memories as well as developing a new strain of wheat (1863) and an anniversary ice-cream flavor. Our festivities go all this year—so much to celebrate.

I have done some exploring of what else was formed in the year 1913. The IEHA is in very good company. The year IEHA was formed the federal income tax was begun, the Federal Reserve was started, the Lincoln Highway across the U.S. was dedicated, the Panama Canal construction ended, the Ford Co. introduced the first assembly line, the zipper was patented, Thomas Wright patented a method of loading ice on to refrigerator railroad cars, and very important for me as a cross-worder, the first crossword puzzle was printed in the NY World newspaper. It had 32 clues. Baby, I could have done that one! That was even before Hoosier Will Shortz became the editor of the New York Times Crossword Puzzle.

The Indiana Extension Homemaker Association is older than the March of Dimes (75), Costa Mesa, Calif. (60), and Linked In (10), the same age as the MIT Women’s League, first known as the MIT Matrons (100), but younger than Harley Davidson (110) and the University of St. Andrews (600).

When I first was invited to speak to this august group, I realized I had been associated with IEHA for 20 of your 100 years—one-fifth of your history. Our 50-year members have been associated for one-half of this organizations history. Who are you, 50-year members? Would you be willing to stand?

How about members from 51-60 years of membership?

61-70?

Over 70?

See how much history this group has seen, influenced, driven, balked against, embraced?

Now what? I hope people who celebrate the bicentennial of IEHA will say how insightful we were today. How much we contributed to the building to this organization bringing it into its second century. Does IEHA have a strategic plan? The centennial seems like the exact right time to develop one or to substantially reevaluate a strategic plan. Where now? We won't know how to get there if we do not have a plan. The presidents of this great university have planned, revised the plan, budgeted by the plan and made big leaps with a plan. This can and should happen for IEHA. It will happen if the members of the organization are thoughtful, strategic and willing to be uncomfortable sometimes.

A plan will challenge, but it should do that. A plan means some change. Change is stepping out into some unknown. Starting something new, not knowing the full implications. Our forefathers and mothers crossed the country to establish new parts of this country. Neil Armstrong, my college contemporary, stepped on the moon. We can’t all step where no one has stepped before, but we can reach out, take a calculated risk and attempt something we know will be hard. Take responsibility. Learn more. Ask questions. Think future, not past. Hemlines will go up and down. Waistlines will fall to the hip and then go back up, heels will get slimmer or wider, but some things are not cyclical.

I just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. Sandberg, the COO of Facebook talks about the career ladder not describing professional progression very well. A jungle gym, she suggests, would be a better analogy. I liked this. Things are not always linear. IEHA does not have to go from point A to B and then C in a linear fashion. It can go from A to B to G and back to C later. It takes commitment, willingness to strategically plan, forethought and planning to know where A, B, G, and C are, or should be.

Working together Mary Mathews and Virginia Meredith started something amazing. Lella Gaddis drove the byways of Indiana in her car with her demonstration case on the running board, or she rode the rails of the trains and taught lessons to help rural farmwomen get an education not available any other way at the time. What they started has grown, changed, progressed, ebbed, flowed and transformed. It has endured for 100 years. We celebrate this organization and the impact it has had on so many lives, so many organizations, and so many homes. Now let us pledge anew to acknowledge what we have accomplished and reach out for the next goal. To continue to grow and be effective, to move forward, realizing that forward may look different. Rural farmwomen education has changed to cancer research fundraising and Riley Hospital children’s outreach.

I am proud of IEHA, I am proud of Purdue Extension, proud of Health and Human Sciences and Purdue University. These groups work together to make an impact, here in Indiana, across this country and internationally. I see a bright future for IEHA. You are in the driver's seat. Determine which new rung of the jungle gym you want to climb, decide where your moon boot footprints will lead. Go where you dream to go, not letting barriers deter you.

Happy birthday, happy anniversary, congratulations. Look what you have done. Now go and continue this great organization, celebrating its rich and wonderful history by creating its new future.

Thank you.

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