by Steven L. Miller,
Office of Communications and Technology
Not many have their life exactly the way they want it when they want it.
Linda Melcher, a College of Agriculture Outstanding Alumnus recipient this year, does.
The 27-year UW employee – 25 of those with the Cooperative Extension Service – calls her time at UW a great ride. Her reputation born from establishing the Cent$ible Nutrition Program (CNP) in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences ultimately led her away in 2005 to a nutritionist position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service in Dallas, Texas.
The UW program helps thousands, and Melcher still gets tears when she reads comments from residents helped by the program.
She won’t take credit for the successes. “Everything I did was as a team,” she explains. “I won’t take credit for accomplishments, but what I will take credit for is assembling good teams. I’m a great catalyst. I would find out what people needed to do their jobs better, get it, and get out of the way and let them do their jobs. That’s my whole management philosophy.”
Melcher received her undergraduate degree in home economics education in 1969 from the University of Northern Colorado. She taught one semester in a
public school in Dallas. Pregnancy caused her to quit. School policy did not permit a teacher to be pregnant and teach, and she eventually returned to Laramie and started as a bookkeeper at UW in 1978.
“It was a fluke I got the job in 1980,” she recalls. “I just came up here (College of Agriculture) to see if I was eligible for the job that was advertised. I knew nothing about nutrition when I started the program. It took about five minutes to figure out I needed to get my master’s.”
She oversaw the USDA’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in three counties, a program that eventually spread to every Wyoming county. “I could see very early on this program had great potential to help people and make a difference in their lives,” she says. “I got entrenched in the extension mission and the extension family. Somehow, I just couldn’t leave. It was a great ride.”
Still, there came a time when she knew she had to leave. “People say you know it’s time to leave,” says Melcher. “I had been feeling it was time to leave for a while, but, when I became eligible to retire, I wasn’t ready. Then an opportunity came along and the floodgates opened and my current job fell into my lap. When things like that happen, you know it’s time. I felt I had given CNP everything I had to give.”
She says she needed to leave the program so her replacement did not feel there was someone looking over his or her shoulders.
Mary Kay Wardlaw, who had been serving as an education specialist, was that person. Wardlaw says Melcher inspires others to do their best work by encouraging creativity, new ideas, and excellence.
“Linda is able to look to the future and see how to make things better,” says Wardlaw. “I learned many things from her, including how to support employees and base administrative decisions on what is best for the organization. Linda cares deeply about those who provide nutrition education through the CNP and the participants involved. She has always been an advocate for those who have limited resources.”
Suzy Pelican, extension food and nutrition specialist in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, says Melcher is honest, hardworking, and a person of vision.
“I am not alone in my praise and admiration for Linda,” she says, and shared comments from Sylvia Moore, program director, Wyoming WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho) Medical Education and a 1992 outstanding College of Agriculture alumnus: “Linda Melcher seamlessly interweaves her passion for her discipline and her concern for the welfare of others. She has an unflagging commitment to helping people learn how to afford tasty, nutritious, and safe food. She brings a genuine respect and warmth to her professional and personal relationships – balanced with refreshing candor and humor...”
Melcher’s early days in the program were an education into a slice of Wyoming life not acknowledged by many – Wyoming residents struggling to meet daily needs. She recalls a visit to a resident with
an educator to recruit people for the CNP program. “A woman looked at me and said, ‘Listen lady, I can’t even afford to keep them from being hungry. What makes you think I can afford to give them good nutrition?’”
There were no lesson plans for educators when she started. Turnover was high. “We just started fixing things,” she notes. “And it just evolved.”
She reels off a number of names of people she says are responsible for her success, and she also notes her husband, Bob. “My whole career wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t been supportive of
me,” she says. “I suppose a lot of people say that, but I don’t know how many husbands put up with their wife gone three-quarters of the time. I really need to give him credit for who I am.”
Bob retired from Union Pacific Railroad and lives in Laramie, and Linda has a long-distance commute.
So, why does she think she’s got it made?
She says she has a great job, a place in Dallas, grandkids in Houston and Laramie, and a husband who supports her life, works four 10-hour days, and has four-day weekends every other week, “and I
fly home to see my grandsons and husband in Laramie,” she says. “How much better could it be?”