Extension director reflects on years of positive impactOctober 1, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
For 26 years, Jan Dougan has helped people of all ages live a healthy life by leading classes and launching programs that focus on food, family, money and much more.
She views the community as her classroom, and she knows she’s made a difference. She also knows it’s time for someone else to have their turn.
Dougan has worked in Dubois County as the Purdue Extension educator for health and human sciences since 2008, and during her time in that role, she has established partnerships with organizations and groups throughout the area that have touched the lives of many.
But after more than a decade of local work, Dougan finished her final shift on Monday. Her retirement officially begins today.
“My passion is helping people, so it’s just been a great blend for me to be able to do this kind of work in the community,” said Dougan, who lives in Holland and also served as the director of Purdue Extension Dubois County. “This community is a fantastic community to work in. There’s great community partners. People are all about helping other people and providing good programming. So, it’s just been a really positive experience.”
A few of the many programs she’s led in Dubois County have centered on successful co-parenting, preparing meals to cook for those who have diabetes and addressing substance use by children. She’s also had the opportunity to work with summer interns — who are usually college students — to help them grow personally and professionally.
One of those interns was Ashlee Sudbury, who is now a community wellness coordinator at the local extension office. At Dougan’s retirement party on Monday afternoon, Sudbery said Dougan’s positive personality will be missed.
“She’s always easygoing,” Sudbery said. “She’s understanding. She’s very professional, but yet she’s personal. And I think sometimes that’s a hard line to toe.”
Dougan grew up in the small northern Indiana town of Bremen. After graduating from Indiana State University in 1974, she worked for Purdue Extension in Daviess County as a family and consumer science agent before doing similar work for the University of Kentucky. Then, she landed in Dubois County for the final years of her career.
As a home economics senior in college, a guest speaker piqued her interest in the field of health and human sciences.
“After hearing her, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s what I want to do,’” Dougan recalled. “I want to work in a community. I want to be able to stay connected to bringing research information to people. Help people improve their lives and livelihoods, and just wherever I live, be a part of that community and help support healthy lifestyles in that community.”
Sometimes, she wouldn’t hear about the impact she’d made until long after her students left. Once, about a year after leading a sewing class in Kentucky, a woman approached Dougan at a dollar store. They recognized each other and started chatting, and the woman shared something with Dougan that she never knew. Dougan helped her kick a smoking habit.
“I said, ‘How did I do that?’” Dougan remembered. “And she goes, ‘Because you taught me to sew, and I used my hands and spent the time sewing. And I was able to stop smoking as a result of spending my time sewing. I had something else to do with my hands.’”
She continued: “We don’t realize what kind of impact that we can have on individuals that are in our programs. But I know it goes on. I know it happens.”
In retirement, she’s looking forward to tackling items on her bucket list. She wants to travel. She wants to spend more time with her grandchildren. She’s looking forward to dedicating more time on her hobbies, like quilting, cooking and baking.
Now, she has the time. Her replacement has not yet been picked.
“It will be a great opportunity for someone because it’s a great community to work in,” Dougan said of her replacement. “There’s great partnerships here. The people care about people here. I just think it’ll be a win-win for somebody.”
Dougan lives in Holland with her husband, Gary.
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