Mason City Globe Gazette, IA 03/12/06

Mason City Globe Gazette, IA
McDonnell retires after 35 years with ISU Extension
By DAVID NAMANNY, For The Globe Gazette
OSAGE — Back in 1971, the Vietnam war was still in progress, “Gunsmoke” was
still on network television and Three Dog Night was on the top of the charts with
their hit single “Joy to the World.”
It was also the year Susan McDonnell started working for Iowa State
University Extension.
The longtime Floyd County resident has been working for 35 years at the
Mitchell County Extension Office in Osage. This past week, she officially retired.
While McDonnell is best known for her regular column “Speaking of Money”
(printed for many years in the Mitchell County Press-News and many other small
community newspapers), she actually started her Extension career as a home
Since 1978, however, she has been based in Mitchell County, serving a sevencounty area as a financial management specialist.
She said it has always been her goal to uphold the mission of ISU Extension,
which is to provide Iowans with information to improve the quality of their lives.
“The other day I figured I’ve written over 1,350 news columns in nearly 35 years
with Iowa State University Extension,” she said.
“I’m amazed at the number of people who tell me they read this column or that
they learned or used information I shared in the column,” said McDonnell.
“Along with the news columns, I’ve answered thousands of consumer questions
and taught thousands of Extension programs.”
Add in radio and TV interviews and newsletters, and it is estimated McDonnell
has reached a million Iowans with information in the past 35 years.
There have been many changes over the years, said McDonnell. When she first
started, her tools included an electric typewriter, paper and “onion skin.” This
eventually changed to today’s world of computers, e-mail and the Internet.
“Have computer, will travel,” said McDonnell with a smile. “Back 30 years ago,
farmers didn’t mind waiting several days for information to be mailed to them.
Now information is instant, and folks have grown accustomed to that.”
She said changes over the years have been astounding. She worked through
the booming farm economy of the 1970s, the farm crisis o fth 1980s and the
rebound of the 1990s.
It was in 1992 that McDonnell started to help area families build financial
“This is something that is lacking in today’s world,” she said. “Whether you’re
saving to buy a house or to help pay for your children’s education, a lot of
families need guidance and counseling.”
There are exceptions, she said, recalling a message she got from a co-worker’s
“I received an e-mail a couple weeks ago with questions from a 9-year old named
Derek asking how fast money grows,” said McDonnell. “This young man made
money trapping and already had $1,200 in a mutual fund earning eight percent to
nine percent.
“In a message sent by his mom, he asked if he would have enough money to buy
a car when he is 16 if he saves $250 to $500 a year - money he earns trapping.
His second question—did I think he could become a millionaire?”
This is the kind of thing I wish we could see in all young people,” said McDonnell.
“I don’t think he’ll have any problems with his finances as he grows up, because
he is already learning more about how it works than many adults.”