ST. JAMES — The list of local organizations that a former ag Extension agent and consultant volunteered for during his lifetime is extensive.
John Ankeny could be found helping people register to vote on Election Day or volunteering at local blood drives. He brought dogs and cats from the Watonwan County Humane Society to the vet and transported equipment and materials for local hospitals.
Colleagues and friends describe the St. James resident as a very community-oriented guy who always wanted to help.
“If anyone can do half of what he did, they lived an accomplished life,” said Gary Wyatt, a University of Minnesota Extension educator.
Ankeny died Feb. 8. He was 97.
Ankeny spent three decades working as an educator and agent for University of Minnesota Extension in Watonwan County. In this role he assisted farmers and helped oversee the local 4-H program.
Lowell Mathistad, a farmer near Butterfield, remembers Ankeny helping the community through his job. During a local grasshopper infestation, Mathistad said Ankeny was there to assist farmers with the problem.
“He was really dedicated to the youth and 4-H program,” Mathistad said. “He would bend over backwards to help them.”
Kurt Blomgren was in 4-H when Ankeny was the county’s Extension director. Ankeny brought him and other 4-H members to St. Paul to attend the State Fair when Blomgren was 11.
He said Ankeny possesses all the traits of a good mentor. “He was patient ... and always gave us guidance,” he said.
As a kid, Blomgren remembers thinking that Ankeny’s beard made him look like Abraham Lincoln.
After retiring from Extension in 1979, Ankeny spent a decade continuing to help farmers as a consultant for the Watonwan Farming Services company.
Ankeny received the prestigious Hall of Fame award from the National Association of County Agricultural Agents in 2009 for his work. Only four educators across the country receive the award each year.
“To this day, John is still every bit the educator and a very well-respected member in the community,” wrote Sanford Seibert, a former 4-H member, in a letter recommending Ankeny for the Hall of Fame award in 2008.
When Ankeny wasn’t working, he was supporting the community in any way he could. He helped construct three homes through Habitat for Humanity. He started the local Relay for Life and volunteered for organizations such as the St. James County Historical Society and the Rotary Club. He also served many roles at St. James United Methodist Church.
“He was at every volunteer event,” Wyatt said.
Ankeny received numerous awards for his services including an award for being a good neighbor, for being an outstanding senior volunteer and for his service to mankind.
“He truly took joy in it,” Blomgren said of Ankeny’s volunteer work.
Ankeny grew up on a farm near Winnebago. He served in the military during World War ll. He and his wife, Lois, adopted four children and had one biological child.
The couple loved to travel and over the years went to 47 meetings for county agents around the country. Wyatt said the two have probably attended more of those meetings than anybody else.
“That was their holiday,” he said.