Karen Mikkelson is retiring from her position as Marshall County extension secretary on Friday. The Langford High School graduate served in the position for 36 years.
Teresa Maxwell snapped this photo of a squall that swept through the Britton area Tuesday morning. The brief rain and wind storm was replaced by sunny skies and a forecast of summer-like temperatures for the rest of the week.
The Langford Area Community Foundation donated $1,000 to Glacial Lakes Area Development (GLAD). The donation was matched by the South Dakota Community Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund. Pictured left to right are Mark Nelson, Langford Area Community Foundation, and Lindsey Kimber, Executive Director of GLAD.
Mikkelson Face Of Extension 36 Years
“If you see someone without a smile give them one of yours.”
That quote by an unknown author could very well have come from long-time Marshall County extension secretary Karen Mikkelson, who has given away thousands of smiles during her 36-year career.
Ḣer career is coming to a close on Friday and due to the COVID-19 pandemic a public retirement party is not planned. But area residents are encouraged to celebrate her years of service to Marshall County by sending a card to PO Box 229, Britton, SD 57430 or sharing messages on Facebook at Marshall County 4-H.
That patented smile was the first thing people would see who stopped in the extension office. In fact, you even received one if you called on the phone.
“I just enjoy customer service and always tried to smile when answering the phone,” said Mikkelson. “If I could sit in the middle of the entry way at a desk and just greet people all day, I would be happy.”
It all began after her sophomore year in college when Mikkelson, a 1977 Langford High School graduate, had a summer job at the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS) office. But that summer job became so much more.
“I realized that I was getting so much of an ag education working there that I ended up staying for four years. That was my first introduction to customer service and dealing with people.”
When Mikkelson saw a job opening for the extension secretary position in 1984 that stressed 4-H and secretarial skills, she thought that it would be a good fit. Thirty-six years later that thought seems to have proven true.
“The job was so enjoyable and every day was different,” recalled Mikkelson. “This has been much more than just a job. It’s been a wonderful career and an amazing journey!”
The title of extension secretary does not really do justice to what Mikkelson’s position has become.
“I wear one hat but have a lot of little subtitles,” joked Mikkelson. “Things have changed so much over the years. When I started the extension office was an ag library and people would come into the office for info on livestock, crops, gardens, home ec, and 4-H. Over time it became a more specific ag library, and nine years ago we saw some big changes when we went to regional offices and became a 4-H youth oriented office.”
When the extension office moved into the Marshall County Community Building, Mikkelson’s position also took on additional duties. She manages scheduling of activities in the building, helps coordinate youth and 4-H activities, plays piano for the Senior Nutrition program, and helps with the Food Pantry.
Office-mate and 4-H Advisor Jennifer Ringkob said Mikkelson really makes everything work.
“Karen is the heart and soul of the office and the entire building,” stressed Ringkob. “She is the glue that holds it all together, all while she shares a smile and brightens people’s days. She has been a huge support for me and I attribute a lot of what I’ve learned to her guidance. She has a degree of dedication and loyalty that is truly admirable and rare, in my opinion.”
“It’s never boring around here, and being in this building has been so much fun,” said Mikkelson. “You get to deal with every aspect and every office, as well as getting to know the seniors who come in to eat. I definitely don’t call it work, and I’ve been very fortunate.”
Computers have been the biggest change Mikkelson has seen in the past 36 years – both good and bad.
“I remember when we got our first computer. All the staff went to Sisseton for training and the first thing they taught us was how to turn it on and shut it off. From that point on computers made work easier, but we had less contact with people. We had cupboards full of publications on how to do stuff, and now everything can be found on the computer. I do miss that one-on-one, so when somebody comes in, I’m thrilled to help them.”
Much of that face-to-face contact has also been replaced by phone or email, but Mikkelson’s emphasis on customer service has never waned. She was recognized for that dedication with a Heart of Dakota Customer Service Award.
“I am very proud of that Customer Service Award. I just believe strongly in customer service and following through with what you say you will do. You can’t make everybody happy, but I’ve always tried to treat people the way I would want to be treated. I haven’t always been successful, but I have learned from the times I wasn’t and tried to get better. In that, I think I’ve succeeded.”
She has also played an integral role in helping develop a strong 4-H program in the county, and those kids will be missed.
“The kids are the most rewarding. When you watch them become adults and hear their success stories, and how 4-H has made a difference in their lives, that is really fun. And there’s nothing more exciting than when the little kids get their first purple ribbon at Achievement Days.”
Mikkelson was quick to credit husband, Denis, for his support of her job and his assistance along the way. That support began with their honeymoon.
“We got married on Aug. 1 and had a really short honeymoon because I had to be back for Achievement Days,” laughed Mikkelson. “And of course we could never take vacation during that time. Denis has helped out a lot and he always knew how much it all meant to me.”
Mikkelson has plenty of activities on her retirement list.
“The grandkids are growing up fast and a lot of my generation cousins are retiring and live all over the United State and want us to come visit. With Denis having retired almost two years ago, we can now do some traveling and spend more time with family and friends. I also love playing the piano and doing activities at my church, I’ll practice my harp more, and Denis and I love gardening and living on our beautiful farm that is our sanctuary.”
For Mikkelson the timing felt right.
“I’m not retiring because of the COVID pandemic, as I had made my decision before that happened. But COVID is making many changes necessary in Extension and 4-H. I feel it’s a good time for somebody new to start and be present with all the changes from the ground up. We have great leadership in our office, county, and at the state level, and I know the 4-H and youth programs are in good hands.”
Road Work Starts Today
The South Dakota Department of Transportation says work will begin to raise the grade on Highway 25 east of Roslyn today (Wednesday).
The roadway will be closed to all traffic on Thursday and Friday (June 4-5) with drivers needing to take an alternate route. Starting Saturday, June , traffic will be guided through the work zone with flaggers.