Getting people together for fun, socialization, helping others and learning has always been the focus of Extension clubs, now called Community and Family Extension Leaders.
These clubs began popping up across the countryside in 1914, after Land Grant Colleges for agriculture and home economics were established in each state in the nation.
The South Dakota site was established at South Dakota State University.
State agents in agronomy and home economics would work with individual county agents, who in turn shared information with people in their own areas.
At the time the Extension program started in 1914, there were 843 county agents and 349 home demonstration agents in the United States.
“When it started it was for women to get out of the house, and they need to learn things to survive on the prairie,” said Theresa Horn, a member of Country Neighbors, one of three CFEL clubs still in existence in Beadle County today.
“These young women came out and didn’t know how to survive,” she added. “How to can vegetables, how to preserve food.”
It’s one of the reasons she first became involved in Extension, Horn said
“I was a city girl in the country,” Horn said, laughing.
The oldest club in South Dakota is the Wild Rose Club in Brookings County, which was established in 1920.
Deanne Ness, a member of the Busy Fingers CFEL Club, said she remembers when the home economist would make home visits to give a lesson.
“At that time, you didn’t just get in your car and drive 70 miles for a class,” added Diana Barton, also a Busy Fingers member.
Although things have changed drastically since the first Extension clubs were established, the focus on education and service remains unaltered to this day.
“Information is shared on issues facing everyone,” said Lynette Spanbauer, a 40-year member of the Busy Fingers CFEL Club. “New issues are introduced every year.
“We have a wide variety of issues and speakers,” she added. “In the early days it was more practical things. Now we have worldwide issues.”
Since the Extension service eliminated individual county agents, CFEL club members have taken on more of a leadership role to keep the program strong.
This year, the issues have been on dealing with negative people and flourless cooking, diet and inflammation.
“Since the agents are gone we are in charge of organizing our own programs,” Spanbauer said. “We have to look for our own resources. We try to find people locally that have expertise. It puts more responsibility on our members.”
Working on crafts and quilting projects together has always been a fun part of CFEL.
“Our club made one quilt a year,” said Alison Dennis, a 30-year member of Busy Fingers Club. “We would draw names among members to give them away. We did that until all members had one.”
“We’re always learning something,” Spanbauer added. “And of course, socialization — we always try to have fun.
“When I started none of us worked outside the home,” she added. “Now we all do.”
South Dakota CFEL Week will be the first week of May. For more information about CFEL opportunities, contact Ness (Busy Fingers) at 352-2364, Dennis (Country Neighbors) at 350-6323, or Rose Husted (BCNU) at 353-1262.