After a 41-year career, focus will be on family and young people –
By Patricia Beech –
Carolyn Belzcyk’s last day as director of the Adams County Extension Office is July 31. She is retiring after 41 years of service – eight of which was spent at the Adams County OSU Extension Office.
Belczyk started her extension career as an Urban Agent in Erie County, Pennsylvania shortly after receiving her Bachelors Degree from Michigan State University.
Shortly thereafter she moved into the position of 4-H Coordinator/Educator for Erie County – a post she held for 27 years.
A former 4-H club member, Belczyk says being a 4-H educator always appealed to her.
“I was in 4-H in Geauga County, Ohio and from the outside looking in, I thought a 4-H educator’s job looked like a lot of fun.”
After nearly three decades in Erie County, Belczyk says she wanted to make a change.
“I went back to the two states I’d been interested in initially, Wisconsin and Ohio, because both have very strong extension programs and positive reputations in the extension community.”
She applied for and won a position in Wisconsin, but says the position was never a good fit for her.
“It was hard because my daughter was in Pittsburgh, my parents were in Chardon, Ohio where I grew up, and I was on the northwest side of Chicago in southern Wisconsin so I had to go through Chicago to get anywhere, it was like a barrier to my success and and I really hated the central time zone – I just never got used to it.
After four fairs she decided to make another move.
“I applied for a position in Ohio because it made sense at that point to move back closer to my parents in Chardon.”
She went to work in the Shelby County Extension Office, but budget crunches brought about by the 2008 recession forced reductions in the office staff, and suddenly her job was gone.
At that time Adams County’s commissioners were searching for someone to step into the county’s 4-H leadership role, a position that had been vacant for several years.
“For about two years before I came here there was no 4-H person at all,” says Belczyk. “The Ag Natural Resources Educator, who was also the County Extension director and the Family Consumer Sciences Educator each did a portion of 4-H, and then in the summer they hired someone to come in as a Summer Program Assistant.”
Belczyk says without a full time 4-H person the program had gone “off in its own direction”, and she now faced the task of bringing it back into compliance with state and federal policies.
“It’s not that anybody meant not to follow the regulations,” she says. “They just didn’t know what they were.”
Belczyk explains that every state’s 4-H program is different from others even though they share an emblem and a pledge in common.
“Fairs and camp are the two strong things 4-H offers in Ohio, or that people think of when they think of 4-H in Ohio, but 4-H is more than just the fair,” she says. “4-H is a leadership development program and a positive youth development program where kids work with a positive team and an adult role model to develop leadership skills and service learning skills. While 4-H is showcased at the fair and gives kids the opportunity to show off what they’ve accomplished, there are also a lot of other state and national activities for 4-H members, and those aren’t at our fair, they’re in Columbus or Washington DC, so I wanted to encourage kids and the entire program to think bigger than the fair.”
Belczyk says there several things she is proud of accomplishing during her years in Adams County. “Working and bonding with teenagers, and going to DC are very positive memories,” she says. “Our work with the Tech Wizards Program, and working with the Junior Fair Board for a common cause are very positive memories.”
After retiring, Belczyk plans to move to Pittsburgh to be near her daughter and grandchildren.
“She doesn’t have any family in the immediate area where she lives and neither does her husband, so they would appreciate it if I would retire and come live in the same community with them, and I’m looking forward to that move.”
She says she doesn’t know quite know whether retirement will be a good fit for her.
“Right now I get up in the morning with a sense of purpose, and when that suddenly stops on August 1 will I get out of bed and say ‘Now what?’. I’ve worked very hard for 41 years as an Extension Educator, and it’s more than a full time job, it is more than 40 hours a week,” she says. “I don’t know what it’s like to suddenly stop doing that, I mean no matter what I’m doing after that it has to leave kind of a void after 41 years. I like kids so I’m anticipating that when I go to Pittsburgh I will find either part-time work or volunteer work that has something to do with kids, I’m thinking there will be many opportunities.”
Without a doubt, the local 4-H youth will miss her leadership as evidenced by the numerous awards they have won during her time here in the county.
Commissioner Diane Ward said Belczyk’s work will have a lasting impact in Adams County.
“I commend Ms. Belczyk on her service and dedication to the 4-H program and OSU Extension in Adams County,” said Ward. “Her contributions have enabled our youth the opportunity to participate in a program that enriches their live, and I congratulate her on her many years of service and extend good wishes to her upon her retirement.”