Hoecker Endowment Keeps on Giving to Extension

By Mitch Lies, GROWING editor

Residents of Newport, Oregon, may be a little more aware of where to go in case a tsunami strikes, thanks in part to an Oregon State University Extension Hoecker Innovative Grant.

Oregon K-12 students may be a little more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables, again thanks to a Hoecker grant.

And minority populations in Ontario, Oregon, may be a little more likely to go for a walk, again thanks in part to the Hoecker family.

Increasing the awareness of tsunami evacuation routes, stimulating healthy eating, and encouraging minorities to walk in rural communities are examples of how the Hoecker family has partnered with Oregon State University Extension Service over the past 15 years to benefit Oregonians.

They also serve as examples of what Scott Reed, director of Extension, characterized as a new model for Extension.

The Hoecker Innovative Grants Program, established in 2001 from an endowment created by the Hoecker family, has its origins in a decision by Dale and Alice Hoecker, both now deceased, to donate a house in Eugene to OSU for the purpose of establishing an endowment to benefit Extension.

Dale Hoecker, a long-time 4-H Extension agent for OSU, determined that creating an endowment was better than extending a one-time gift, said Ken and Peggy Hoecker of North Albany, the family’s representatives.

“I really praise my parents-in-law’s foresight to have donated this house, which eventually was sold, and from which the endowment was created,” said Peggy.

“By creating the endowment, rather than just giving money, it continues to give and benefit OSU Extension,” Ken said.

Initially, the endowment’s sole purpose was to award outstanding achievements by Extension agents. Today, in addition to awarding achievements, the endowment is used to fund the Hoecker Innovative Grants program.

“The structure of the awards has changed over the years,” Ken Hoecker said. “Extension has come to us and made suggestions as to how to shape the awards, and we have agreed to their suggestions. What they wanted to do always seemed very reasonable.”

Today the Hoecker grants benefit Extension in two primary fashions, Reed said.

“One is the recognition that the award generates,” he said. “They generate peer understanding and respect for some of the real progressive Extension programs that have significant accomplishments.

“The second major advantage is they stimulate innovation and encourage faculty to think about doing things in innovative ways, or address an emergent issue in a way that is untested,” Reed said.

The grants, according to the program’s guidelines, “address a high priority need of an Oregon target audience through creative and innovative approaches.”

In the case of the tsunami evacuation route project, Cait Goodwin, coordinator for Oregon Sea Grant’s Quests program at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, used a treasure-hunt approach to encourage a better understanding of the designated evacuation route from the Science Center to higher ground. Preliminary plans are in place to use the same approach in other coastal cities.

In the project to encourage students to eat their fruits and vegetables, Patty Case, an associate professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, used the approach of “training and empowering lunch ladies,” or food service staff “to nudge students to not only choose the healthy foods they offer, but to eat them.” Case added: “Food service staff can take an active role in school wellness by making the lunchroom a fun place to learn about and experience healthy foods.”

In the grant supporting the encouragement of physical activity and community interaction among minority populations in Ontario, Barb Brody, a Family and Community Health Extension agent in Malheur County, developed walking routes and encouraged citizens to form walking groups.

Grant awards typically run $2,000 to $4,000, but this past year were $1,000, as the university “had to do a little bit of catch-up in rebuilding the endowment,” Reed said.

Still, he said: “Even a thousand dollars – when added to a faculty member’s existing resources, and their ability to work with other partners – expands the pool of their resources in ways that, left alone, we wouldn’t be able to afford.

“More and more,” Reed said, “partnerships like these are defining the way we do our work. Through partnerships, we are able to leverage each other’s resources and co-create solutions.”

In recent years, award recipients have put together presentations of their projects to show at the annual OSU Extension Association Awards Breakfast, this year held Nov. 16. “The short presentations have been so enlightening and meaningful to us,” Peggy Hoecker said.

“It is wonderful to see how the Extension staff are using the grant funds,” she said. “To see what my parents-in-law’s initial foresight, and how the Hoecker Family Grants continue to assist OSU Extension in helping to meet the needs of other people on an annual basis, is just thrilling.”

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