This past weekend I went to the retirement celebration of a good friend, really more of a mentor. For those of you who don’t know I was an extension agent for almost 19 years before I eschewed a regular paycheck and dove into the world of farming. Chuck Otte was the extension agricultural agent in Geary County, two counties over. We were in the same programing block and worked closely together.
Chuck retired this past week after 40-plus years of serving Geary County, a feat that is mindboggling to me. I am pretty sure if you looked up the definition of a county agent, Chuck’s picture would accompany it. When I think of the traits that a successful county agent should have, Chuck checks them all off the list.
I am pretty sure that there was nothing Chuck hadn’t seen over the past four decades because I was never able to stump him with a question. Often, I would send him a grainy, out of focus picture and many times receive an answer in just a few minutes
While I marveled at the way he conducted Extension business, my favorite memories were at camp. Chuck and I roomed together at 4-H camp for many years. We volunteered (or were voluntold) for duty at Stoneybrook, the most rustic of cabins. Chuck would bring tiki torches for ambience and a sound system. In the practical sense the tiki torches and music made it much easier for campers and counselors alike to find us if issues arose.
As camp quieted down for the night, we would be outside in the glow of the torches listening to music, eating Skittles (I am not sure why Skittles became the official candy of camp, but they did) and drinking tonic water (nothing else in it – Chuck said it helped with cramping). The music was Chuck’s own, and he was the one who turned me into a parrothead (a Jimmy Buffett fan, for the uninitiated). Along with Buffett and Gordon Lightfoot were other more eclectic selections like “Lime in the Coconut.”
We would discuss and cuss matters of great importance while campers took showers and settled in for the night. Often our sessions did not wrap up until way after the cabins had grown dark and quiet. Those chats were the best. They ranged from work topics to current world events.
When it came to work topics, I learned more than I did at all of the updates we had throughout the year. However, the best part our deep discussions were the more worldly topics.
Chuck and I did not always share the same views, but I valued his opinion and often he made me see the other side of an issue more clearly. The insight I gained was worth much more than the sleep I lost. On the flip side, I don’t know if we ever had a counselor sneak out. I don’t think they could wait us out in most cases (if we did, I don’t want to know at this point so I can stay blissfully unaware).
A funny side note is that Chuck’s favorite duty at camp was to oversee K.P. Why, I am not sure because that was about my least favorite part of camp. It was really a great thing because of the patience Chuck had with the kids as they slopped their way through the assigned duty, often with little enthusiasm. Most of the time he made the duty fun and was encouraging, well, unless you were an agent’s kid and got caught dipping your finger into the salad dressing. Tatum told me I couldn’t tell that story.
I am not sure what Chuck will do in retirement, but I am sure he will find something. Probably along the lines of his two favorite hobbies, bird watching and growing garlic. Maybe he will come out with a new cookbook of garlic fowl recipes. (Sorry Chuck, I just couldn’t help myself.)
I hope his activities will include lots of travel with his wife Jaye. If anyone deserves retirement more than Chuck it is his wonderful wife Jaye, who endured most of 40 years of extension work. I know Chuck and Jaye will do great things in their community in retirement because that is the kind of people they are.
I will close this out by saying that I hope my kids have the same kind of career Chuck did. I hope they find a job that becomes their passion in life, where they make a difference in their communities and go to work each day with the same kind of zest and zeal that Chuck approached his job every day for over 40 years.
I would wish my friend a restful retirement, but I know that isn’t how it will be for him. Instead, I will wish him a great retirement where now he gets to pick and choose the things he devotes his time to. Unlike many retirements, this is not an end, but a beginning, and I wish you and Jaye the absolute best.
Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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