DANVILLE – After 10 years as director of the University of Illinois Vermilion County Extension office, Michelle Pride will retire at the end of this month.
"It's the people I will miss the most," said Pride, whose last day will be Oct. 1.
Lisa Ellis, director of the Edgar County Extension Office, has already been appointed to take over as interim director after Oct. 1.
Ellis said she will be traveling to the Vermilion County Extension office two days a week. She said the length of her appointment is indefinite.
"We have the same program areas here in Edgar County, but I look forward to learning how they function in Vermilion County," she said. "My goal isn't to make a big splash, just maintain things until a new person is named."
In 1997, Pride joined the Extension office as interim director, filling in for her predecessor, who was in the National Guard and serving in Bosnia. By 1999, the position was officially open, and Pride became the permanent director.
During those first two years, the Extension office faced some funding challenges. It was a difficult time, Pride said, because it meant either laying off staff members or asking voters for more money. But Vermilion County voters approved establishing a property tax levy supporting the Extension office.
Like her first two years, Pride's last two have been filled with funding challenges, as the Vermilion County Board has reduced the Extension office's levy amount the last two years, from the requested $145,000 to $100,000. The $45,000 loss also meant a loss of $45,000 in matching funds.
Pride had to cut some staff, including agricultural educator John Peverly. The office still has a secretary, a part-time secretary, a program coordinator, three family nutrition educators and a 4-H coordinator, although that position is vacant. Pride said she will let the next director fill that position.
One area the Extension office has moved away from, Pride said, is agriculture, although the office still connects citizens with ag educators at the university.
"I'm just glad that we've kept Extension open with some of the budget crises," Pride said.
At a Vermilion County Board meeting earlier this summer, Pride was asked if there were plans to consolidate the Vermilion County Extension office with another county office. The Ford and Iroquois county Extension offices have already been consolidated.
Pride said Wednesday that she doesn't think consolidation will happen in Vermilion County.
Extension officials could not be reached for comment.
"I think Extension is going to be fine here," she said. "But we still have to build up the money."
Not paying her salary for three to four months will save some money this year, Pride said.
She added that UI Extension officials will decide when the time is right to fill her position.
About a year ago, Pride began seriously considering retirement, especially after she and her husband, Jim Pride, bought their retirement house on a golf course near Pana. Her husband, who sold his Champaign business, has already made the move to the new house, she said, and she'll soon follow.
"We had also been to Germany a couple years ago and decided we wanted to do more traveling," she said.
Before her last day, however, Pride will travel to Minneapolis to receive a continued excellence award from the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Science for her accomplishments as director.
"It will be a nice way for me to finish up," she said.