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by Mark Cheffey
University Extension has two new employees working out of the Marion County Courthouse, one getting to know the area, and the other getting reacquainted.
Nick Wessiak, the new agronomy field specialist, is a Missouri native, but new to the area, while Elizabeth Thordsen, is a Palmyra High School graduate, who has returned to her roots to become a nutrition and youth program specialists for Marion County.
“I’m trying to learn what’s going on in the community. I want to be on the forefront,” said Wessiak, who commutes to his office in the Marion County Courthouse in Palmyra from where he and his wife live near Vandalia.
But traveling is already a part of his job while covering not only Marion County, but Lewis, Ralls, Macon, Shelby, Knox, Clark and Scotland counties.
While focusing on crops, Wessiak has a livestock background which started as a youth involved in FFA before graduating from high school in Salem, Mo.
“I like working with the cows a lot,” he said.
After graduating from the University of Missouri with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture related fields, Wessiak spent time in the private
sector in Mississippi before returning to Missouri recently when his wife took a position with ADM.
He then began working for Extension, getting reconnected with the University of Missouri.
Wessiak said his overall goal is to not only work with farmers, but also with the business community as well.
“Everybody working together makes for a really good team,” he said.
He also wants to remind the public he is available to answer questions and help in anyway he can.
“I want to get the word out that we’re here and want everybody to know we want to do everything we can for the community,” Wessiack said. “If I don’t know the answer, I have a lot of resources I can access through the university and elsewhere. We’ll get an answer.”
Other more specific areas he plans to work in are helping producers with the private pesticide application process through the state and to promote farm safety.
“It’s one of the most dangerous occupations in the world,” Wessiak said.
For Thordsen, who had been away from her hometown a while, getting the position in Palmyra she has welcomed.
“It has been nice reconnecting to people,” Thordsen said. “I’ve seen a lot of people I went to high school with. And, I feel like I’ve made an impact on my neighbors and the community.”
While not a 4-H member growing up, Thordsen said she has grown to value the program for its efforts in developing leadership and community involvement skills.
“A big part of it is teaching independence and community outreach,” she said.
Thordsen feels she is making an impact by getting more youths involved in 4-H especially the disadvantaged in the county.
Thordsen has a background in food service, and is excited about the nutrition education part of her job in helping children and youths make better nutrition choices and even help them learn basic food preparation skills so they can expand their nutrition choices while becoming more independent.
While trying to help young people eat more healthy food, Thordsen is honest with them.
“I tell them you’ll see me at McDonald’s from time to time,” she laughs.
After high school, Thordsen said she took advantage of the A+ Scholarship program and eventually became a teacher’s aide in middle school and Head Start.
She then worked at Java Jive in Hannibal for a number of years before moving to Austin, Texas, where she also worked in food service.
While serving in her current position, Thordsen is taking online classes through Maryville University with hope of completing a bachelor of science in computer science.
“I’m hoping to see the whole process through,” she said.