University of Illinois Extension serving Christian, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery Counties
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Gary Letterly to retire after 25 years with Extension
May 23, 2017
Gary Letterly will be turning in his field boots and turning off his microscope one last time when he officially retires from the University of Illinois Extension on May 31. The public is invited to attend an open house in Gary’s honor from 2 pm to 4 pm on Wednesday, May 31 at the Christian County Extension office in Taylorville.
2017 marked Letterly’s 25th year with Extension, a career that began in October of 1992. “I came in at the time of a statewide reorganization of Extension when the concept of center educators was being established”, Letterly said. “I was attracted to the Extension position in Christian County because of its location and the broad area of the subject matter required of candidates.” Originally, hired as a Unit Educator for Crops, Horticulture and Economic Development, his background was in agronomy and included 14 years of experience in agribusiness. Letterly also holds a Crop Sciences degree from the University of Illinois.
Hired at a time when many of the educator positions were specialized and more narrowly focused, Letterly may have bucked the trend covering his position as more of a “generalist” with knowledge useful to a broader number of Extension clients. Much of his early work was devoted to row-crop production agronomy; however, he also assisted with homeowner lawn, garden and pest issues as well.
His broad range of skills also included contributions to local economic development projects in the county. Including the establishment of an Enterprise Zone and the expansion of Route 29. “I remember working directly with Verlin Bundy, the economic development coordinator at the time, to bring him up to speed on the requirements, the positives, as well as the negatives of Enterprise Zones and establishing tax abatement regions in communities where there is concern with the concept.”, said Letterly. “Extension was an integral part of the success of the initiative.”
Gary’s knowledge in community development came from firsthand experience. “I have always been active in local public leadership and served as a township trustee, village board member and as a mayor for 2 ½ terms in the mid 80’s and early 90’s”, said Letterly. During his career, he worked with mayors across the county to provide “Community Swaps” to help community leaders and elected officials learn by collaborating with similar sized communities across the state.
Letterly also noted that commodity prices were very low for much of the mid-1990’s into the early 2000’s, which brought about interest in alternative crops and organic production. Letterly noted that, “Extension played a supporting role in many of these initiatives and came to some degree of notoriety for establishing the U of I – Dudley Smith Farm and Dudley Smith Initiatives”. He added, “This resource of land and support to develop locally relevant research and outreach has been one of my primary engagement tools for the past 17 years.”
After reorganization within Extension seven years ago, his title became Energy and Environmental Stewardship Educator in Unit 18, which is comprised of Christian, Jersey, Macoupin and Montgomery Counties. In this position, his focus grew to include intensive grazing management systems (working directly with Ed Ballard) and biomass heat and power working with ACES campus staff. Those staff members included Wendy White, Mike Vincent, Natalie Boseker, Tim Mies, Dr. George Czapar, Dr. Stephen Long, Dr. Carl Bernacchi, Dr. Emily Heaton, Dr. Ted Funk, Dr. Rich Gates, Dr. DK Lee, Dr. Tom Voigt, Dr. Fred Below, Dr. Hans Blaschek, Dr. Madhu Khanna, Drs. David and Donald Bullock, Dr. Neal Merchen, Dr. Dan Shike, Dr. Vickie Jarrell, Dr. Laura Gentry, Dr. Teresa Steckler, Dr. Laura Christianson, Dr. Cameron Pittelkow and Dr. Rabin Bhattarai.
Throughout his career, Letterly was involved in projects ranging from perennial biomass grass production for cellulosic and pyrolytic conversion strategies to sugar extraction and high valued livestock feed. “Many project collaborators and farm practitioners were key to my successful engagement with researchers to apply research,” Letterly explained. Those practitioners included Mark and Linda Smith, the Repscher family, RD Elder and family, Craig and Katie Paulek family, Jack Erisman, Dick Breckenridge, Ronnie Slaon family, Bliler family, John Caveny, John, Fred, TJ and Danny Curtin, Paul Gebhardt (deceased), Ralph and Beth Sloman (deceased), the Hebert family, the entire NRCS and USDA FSA staff in Christian County (particularly, Sue Davis who has supported Extension outreach since the formation of Christian County Soil Savers and Christian County Ag Group), and the Christian, Jersey and Montgomery County Farm Bureaus. Letterly added, “and last but not least the entire Schetter family near Brighton, IL and the family farm members of OMNI Ventures who have made my last ten years with Extension unforgettable as we endeavored.”
Gary also gave special mention and thanks to Linda Kehias for her program support and that of her late husband Avgary who was one of the very first Master Gardeners in Christian County he met over 20 years ago. Letterly looks forward to continuing his work with Linda after retirement to develop the concept of an arboretum and natural resources outdoor learning center near Pana.
When asked what projects were especially meaningful Gary mentioned the current project at the U of I Dudley Smith Farm researching intensive management of corn production systems and nutrient loss reduction, as well as a joint project with IDOT to address the sustainability of using roadside biomass along with the need to support pollinating insect ecosystems. “These projects will continue to engage stakeholders and expand knowledge and the development of agri-ecologic systems that are sustainable”, added Letterly.
Gary also lists among his career highlights working with regional stakeholders, offering Private Applicator Training help sessions hosted by Farm Bureau, Certified Livestock Management Trainings, Sustainable Living Expos held at Dixon Springs demonstrating their gasification system, exhibiting at Farm Progress Shows, teaching CCA’s for CEU’s, hosting Unit 18 Agronomy Days, and working on various Dudley Smith Projects.
As Letterly prepares to exchange his professional days as an educator for the retired life, he looks back with satisfaction. “I enjoyed it all! And I enjoyed getting to know the staff across Unit 18 and on campus, those who have stayed, those who have moved on and those who continue to reach higher and serve the stakeholders across the state by providing research-based information.”
Source: Terri Miller, County Extension Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Local Contact: Gary Letterly, Extension Educator, Energy and Environmental Stewardship, email@example.com