By MATT KOESTERS
Thirty-three years, three months, three weeks and four days.
Not that Bob Allen is counting, but that’s how long he has served as an extension educator and leader in the Purdue Extension offices in Clark and Floyd counties. Allen, 54, may know exactly how much time he’s spent helping the youth of Southern Indiana, but there’s no way to count just how many young lives he’s reached.
The Clark County Purdue Extension office celebrated Allen’s retirement Thursday with a reception at the county’s 4-H fairgrounds, where Allen has helped put together the county’s last 15 4-H Fairs.
“It’s been overwhelming, but I’m ready to step into another stage of life,” Allen said. “I’d like to have a bit more time for family and church, and actually spend some time in the woods and on the water on my time.”
Allen’s career as an extension educator began with a bit of culture shock. Born and raised in Ripley County, Allen, then 21, got his first full-time extension job in Floyd County.
“I was a rural young person graduating from Purdue, and the director at the time said, ‘We’ll start you out at the lion’s mouth,’” Allen recalled. “I did not know what that meant, but I went from a very rural, one-stop-light county to a municipality, which was New Albany, and that was way a stretch for me.
“What I learned real quickly was that you had to learn and utilize your communications skills with volunteers that are the backbone of the 4-H program.”
Floyd County is where Allen stayed until 1998, but during that time, he channeled his passion for hunting and fishing into programs that impacted the entire state. Allen was on the founding board of the Indiana 4-H Shooting Sports Program in 1986, a program Allen estimates now serves between 8,000 and 9,000 youth.
He plans to continue to teach Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ hunter education programs in retirement. He was also a founder of the Indiana Hunter Education Association, and his lifetime membership was the first sold by the group. The association continues to grow today.
Allen and his wife moved from New Albany to Clark County in 1998 to return to the rural lifestyle in which Allen was raised. He has served as an extension educator, interim director and director of the Clark County Purdue Extension Office.
“We don’t want him to retire. That’s being greedy, but we know that it’s time for him to enjoy life a little bit,” said Joyce Dickson, a member of the Clark County Purdue Extension board. “It’s just like when my husband retired; he didn’t want to, but it was time to. Yes, we have mixed emotions. We want to keep him, but we want him to have the enjoyment of some free time.”
Allen is passionate about serving the youth in the 4-H programs. When stress levels rose as the county fair loomed in July, Allen began donning colorful, striped socks to keep smiles on the children’s faces. Allen wore those same socks to his retirement celebration.
“He’s fantastic with kids,” Dickson said. “He’s got more kids to join 4-H than a lot of people can do because the kids, they just go to him. He gets down on their level and talks with them, teaches them all about the important, educational part of 4-H.”
It’s the kids that Allen will miss the most, as it’s kids that are at the heart of 4-H.
“Everything I do with youth is what keeps you rolling, because we are making a difference,” Allen said. “So much of what our programs have done and will continue to do is provide safe environments, teach responsibility. Everyone knows about what 4-H does with animals, but that is major as far as growth of a young person and learning responsibility — starting a project and finishing it. That’s true to what you do in life, you start a project, and you have a commitment to finish it.”
Although Allen is going to be spending more time in the woods and on the water, don’t expect him to disappear entirely from the 4-H scene. He said he will be coming back to volunteer. After all, he knows that it was volunteers that helped make his work over these past 33 years, three months, three weeks and four days successful.
“Working with people is what I’m going to miss to a large extent,” Allen said, “so I want to thank all of the volunteers that have been behind our efforts.”