Grayling 4-H leader retiring after several years devoted to youth
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A Grayling educator whose family has deep roots in Crawford County is retiring from her job leading local 4-H programs after just over two decades.
Nancy Persing, who has served in several capacities with Crawford County’s Michigan State University (MSU) Extension office, is retiring after 21 years of service.
For over the last six years, Persing served as the 4-H program coordinator in Crawford County and Roscommon County. She was one of few coordinators tasked with covering two counties when the MSU Extension instituted budget cuts throughout the state.
“It really changed the dynamics of the job, trying to accomplish the same thing in both counties,” Persing said.
In Roscommon County, Persing had to handle coordination of the programs and paperwork when the budget ax swung.
“We’ve gone through some tough times,” she said. “Because of budget cuts, they eliminated the secretary there, so that makes it more challenging.”
Over the years, Persing has seen 4-H move from an agriculture-based program to one which focuses on electronics, robotics, computers, and science.
“Most people think of cows and chickens when they think of 4-H, and Crawford and Roscommon used to have fairs, but they don’t have enough agriculture to support fairs,” Persing said.
Persing said youth in Roscommon County have thrived through the use of equipment and gadgets she has accumulated throughout the years.
“Some of those kids are shining,” Persing said. “I’ve had fourth graders who have never seen some of our circuitry things build a FM radio in one day.”
Colleagues, who gathered to celebrate Persing’s retirement last week, recognized her as a pillar for 4-H in the region and statewide.
“I’ve known Nancy for 20 years, and she has been a strong supporter of 4-H,” said Dorthy Munn, a supervising and staff developments educator for the MSU Extension. “She was instrumental in bringing 4-H to Crawford County and most recently in Roscommon County, where she has introduced many children to science programs and the natural resources. We will really miss her in her retirement, but are very excited about her entering this new phase in her life.”
To her credit, Persing has brought in over $500,000 in grants to support Crawford County, and over $1 million to the region by partnering with other counties. The grants have been used to help fund the purchase of equipment and supplies, which were used for multiple programs, as well as to fund personnel costs.
While there are specific grants aimed for 4-H programs, Persing said obtaining other grants has become more complicated.
“Grants are more difficult everywhere,” Persing said. “Everybody needs more money, so everybody is looking for those grants.”
The local 4-H programs utilize grants from the United Way to get more youth involved with the program by making participation fees more affordable.
“We do not let anybody not do 4-H because of money – we find a way,” Persing said. “Resources are less in the north, and we don’t have what the big cities have and the budgets they have.”
Persing said the most important task she has taken on is providing a new avenue to teach science to youth as it becomes a more critical pathway to emerging careers.
“I think the best thing I’ve done is make science come alive,” Persing said. “Schools don’t have the advantage of being able to play and make science magic and explode and have kids be excited to learn science. Our future kids are going to need science in everything that they do.”
Part of lessons include introducing students to writing computer code for websites and electronic devices.
“If they learn all the things that are available, they can have an excellent job and excellent pay and work and live here,” Persing said. “They don’t have to go someplace and get good jobs.”
Persing’s grandparents, Ella and Ed Funck, homesteaded in Pere Cheney, a town which was settled in the 1800s by lumbermen following the railroads who set up camp.
Her father, Edwin, was born there.
“He was born in Pere Cheney before it became a ghost town, and the family moved when he was 3-years-old, but he always lived in Crawford County,” Persing said.
After Pere Cheney was declared a ghost town, Grayling was named the county seat for Crawford County.
Ella Funck ran the Crawford County Library out of the front of the family home in Grayling for 22 years.
Persing’s parents, Edwin and Ruth Funck, were early settlers when the community started to grow.
“I’m as native as they come,” Persing said.
Persing, and her late husband Steve, had two children: Eric Persing and Nicole Persing Wethington. Nicole followed in her mother’s footsteps and is currently serving as a Nutrition Instructor for the Michigan State University Extension Health & Nutrition Institute. Nicole will assume the job of disease prevention and social health supervisor for the local MSU Extension office on Jan. 1.
Persing stayed with her grandparents growing up, and she now wants to offer that same opportunity to her grandchildren, Nate Persing and Zoella Wethington.
“My children had the advantage of going to their grandparents every single day after school, and I want to give that to my grand kids,” Persing said. “Grandparenting has really been important to my world.”
Persing acknowledged she will miss working with people she has met and the excitement of the kids when they learn something new. She has already started some new endeavors as she has moved on toward retirement.
“I have a lot of projects started,” she said. “I won’t be bored.”
Persing will maintain her heritage in Crawford County.
“I can’t imagine moving to another place – it’s home,” she said. “There are a lot of things I want to accomplish in my future, and I plan to do that here.”
Persing plans on continuing to educate youth.
“I had a lot of fun playing here,” Persing said. “I’ve helped a lot of people learn life skills that 4-H teachers and I plan on having more fun with kids in my future.”