In January 1988, Becky Kuelbs started a new job, and for the next 30-plus years she has been the first voice most hear when they call the Redwood County Extension office.
However, that was not her first career.
In 1974, right out of technical school, Kuelbs started working for the FBI in Washington, D.C. as a stenographer taking shorthand.
Ultimately, Kuelbs came back home, and she continued in her role as support staff sat a bank in Redwood Falls and then for the Springfield School District.
It was about a year and a half later when she took on the role where she would work until opting to retire at the end of April 2020.
According to Kuelbs, she saw an ad in the paper, and because she lived on a farm, loved to cook, bake, sew, garden and all the things that home economics entails as well as 4-H (which her kids were in), she thought it would be a good fit.
“When I first started with Extension, I was one of two support staff supporting three educators: ag, home ec and 4-H. My job then was mainly with ag and home ec,” Kuelbs explained. “As time went along the other support staff was forced to retire because of health issues, throwing me into the job of working for all three educators. They did hire someone to fill her job eventually. After she took a job as court reporter, we had a few part-time individuals helping.
“At this time, we were working with one IBM computer and mainly an electric typewriter. As the computers advanced, things definitely got easier. We also added a SNAP-ed educator which meant me supporting four educators. Eventually the commissioners decided to only fund the 4-H program, because the U of M was putting more specialists at the regional center versus the county level.”
For Kuelbs, the job she did was constantly changing, which meant boredom was never a concern.
During the time she worked in Extension, the part of her job she enjoyed most was working with the families in Redwood County.
According to Kuelbs, the changes she has experienced over the years have been many – going from one IBM computer (which she knew nothing about because she was self-taught on an Apple at the school) and an electric typewriter, tons of paper copies and filing cabinets, along with four educators, to everything being on computer and files all saved there, very few paper copies and one educator. For her, it has been amazing.
“At county fair, all premium checks used to be printed in our office and brought to the fair board for signatures on Saturday of the fair,” Kuelbs explained. “I would sit in their office all day Sunday and give out checks to youth. At that time, they were asked by the fair board to cash them right away there. Now, I would go back to the office, after fair, and get the information together to give to the fair board and they would issue one check per club. This check would contain all premiums for each child. The club would then issue a check to the individual.”
For Kuelbs the part of her job she enjoyed most was the county fair.
“Everyone works so hard to make it happen. Everyone comes together and individuals you don’t see very often, and some only at fair, work together,” she explained. “I was amazed at how grown up the kids would get from year to year.
“One year a very tall young man with curly hair was asking for his entry packet. I looked at him and asked who he was. He said, ‘Well Becky, it’s (he gave me his name).’ He had grown about a foot and his hair was long and curly. We both just laughed.”
Kuelbs indicated she will definitely miss the families she has worked with, and in some occasions the parents were the 4-H members when she started her job.
So why is now the time to retire?
According to Kuelbs, “my husband and I are both lucky enough to have parents who are still living in our community and are able to be on their own. However, with COVID-19, we talked about the fact that because they are deciding to stay safe, it means that we are able to help them with things like getting groceries, and because they each have patios, we are able to visit them as they sit on their patio and we bring our chairs and sit on the lawn. It would be very difficult for all of us if we weren’t able to do that. I wouldn’t be able to help them if they needed it during the days I was working.”
Kuelbs also has some plans for what she will be doing now that she is not going to the office.
“I work closely with the Springfield Area Food Shelf as a board member as well as a volunteer, so I plan to be able to do more since not having to go the office daily,” Kuelbs explained. “Right now, I am doing a great deal of gardening, both flower and vegetable, and getting things done that I have never had time to do.
"We have two grandchildren that live next door to us, so I spend time baking, playing cribbage and just visiting with them, and as soon as the things open up, we want to spend more time with the grandkids who we have only been able to see, talk and read to via Facetime. I am taking the time to just figure out what I want to do ‘when I grow up.’”
Kuelbs indicated her most memorable moments happened at the county fair.
“It is amazing how you can tell how the fair will be by the weather. If it was cool enough to wear jeans and sweatshirts, the animals were happy and all was well,” she explained. “If it was hot, now that was a different story.”
Kuelbs also recalled the Y2K scare
“We worked so hard to make sure everything wouldn’t be lost on the computers and then… nothing,” she added.
For Kuelbs, 4-H has been a very big part of her life for the past 33 years. She has gotten to know so many people.
“I would like to thank all of the families, from the kids to the parents to the grandparents. You have become true friends,” indicated Kuelbs. “Also, the educators and individuals who have come in and out of my life, thank you. To the fair board, both current and past, thank you for the support you gave 4-H and me as we tried to make things good together. To my work family, you are the best.”