Jack's Insights August 2018

Dr. Jack Whittier
Jack Whittier, Director, UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

In my living room, I have a painting of a matched team of workhorses, still wearing their harnesses, standing in the traces.  The painting shows a partially plowed field in the foreground.  Behind them is a plow, unhooked from the team, yet the horses stand steadily in position, just as they have done for years.  In the background is a farmer approaching the experienced, dedicated team with a new team of horses ready to hook to the plow. 

The artist of this painting is successful in depicting an expression of satisfaction for a job well done on the faces and overall demeanor of the experienced horses. It seems that the experienced team is somewhat reluctant to step out of the traces, yet they are accepting of the fact that it is time for others to replace them and continue to plow the field. At the same time, the expression of the experienced, dedicated horses seems to reflect a feeling of relief for being unhooked from the plow so they will be able to move on to other pursuits, including family and personal dreams.

Why is Jack including this story of the horses and the painting you ask?  Well, I use this as an analogy for changes that are occurring at the University of Nebraska (UNL) the Panhandle Research and Extension Center (PHREC). If you have had any experience or interaction with PHREC or the Panhandle District over the past many years, you too have observed a matched pair of human workhorses who have faithfully plowed the field to serve the needs of others. Their names are Sharon Holman and Pat Martin.  Both will retire this month after many years of service to others as faithful employees of your university.

My point is not that we at the university work our employees like horses, rather research and extension work is like plowing a field for our clientele throughout Nebraska. Our goal is to create value for the state by plowing in the same direction. People like Sharon and Pat play a tremendous role toward this goal, often behind the scenes in this effort.

Sharon has been a godsend to me since I joined the Panhandle District as Director just over four years ago.  It literally feels like my right arm is being cut off as I consider her departure.  Her patient, humble, unassuming, and solid commitment to the clientele, employees and operation of the Center and District for 30 years is remarkable.  Perhaps she feels she has taken me as far as possible with what she had to work with, and now it is time for me to learn better how to walk on my own.  Certainly, she has earned the right to slow down some – although I doubt she will slow very much, knowing her get-it-done approach to life – and spend more time with children, grandchildren and friends.

Pat has been much the same as Sharon.  Pleasant, dedicated, efficient and skilled are a few adjectives that describe Pat.  I recall one of the first times I sat with Pat in a meeting, I watched with amazement as she made a bunch of squiggly lines on a notepad as she listened.  At first, I thought she was just doodling, but I then realized she was writing shorthand – an almost-lost skill from our digital society of today.  Having Pat leave is like having my left arm cut off.  Pat is the ultimate example of quietly working in the background to assure that others are successful.

We will bring others to hook to the plow and keep the Center and District functioning.  However, as a state institution, this takes time and several steps are involved to hook new workhorses to the plow.  At times it feels like the wheels turn slowly.  I jokingly say the university can hire a football coach in a matter of hours, but it takes much longer with other positions.  So, please be patient with us as we assemble new horses and continue to plow the fields as we serve your needs.  We are fortunate to have the opportunity to serve the Panhandle in all aspects of our mission, whether it be crops, cattle, communities or youth, we feel it a privilege to be part of the great university representing this end of the state.

Even though I may personally feel somewhat “armless” as we go through this transition, I’m confident in those on our staff who remain and am certain we will find replacements that will hook to the plow and continue plowing. The speed and efficiency of the plowing will likely take some time to transition to a new team, but we are committed to serving your needs and will continue to pull in a forward direction. Even if, for a period of time, the plow rows may not be as straight as we are all accustomed to from previous times, the work will proceed forward in a steady manner.

I want to personally and publicly say thank you to Sharon and Pat for a job well done. You have both willingly done what is necessary to accomplish the work here. We wish you well in your retirement.  Thank you!

One last comment. As a way to show what we do in crop and cattle production and research here at the Center, we will hold the first PARTT at the Center on Wednesday, Aug. 29.  You may be asking, “What is PARTT?”  PARTT is an acronym for the Panhandle Agriculture Research and Technology Tour at PHREC.  It is a new approach developed by our faculty to “show and tell” what we do to serve the needs of you as clientele to develop, discover and deliver new, useful information.  Come see us – more details about PARTT are available on our website and other news releases.  In the meantime, we will keep plowing ahead!