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Penn State Extension Endowment Honors the 'Siri' of Lebanon County
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 05/12/2022

Recently, Alletta "Letie" Schadler received an unexpected phone call. Someone had a question about preparing a potato dish for a family of 15. Schadler often advised on food safety matters at Penn State Extension. But she worked there decades ago. The woman had found her number in an old telephone directory.

"It's funny -- even 22 years after I retired, people are still hunting me down," Schadler said. "I kid that for many years I was the Siri of Lebanon County because I answered all the questions."

Volunteers in Lebanon County may benefit from a Penn State Extension award honoring Schadler. The Alletta Schadler Community Service/Engagement Award will provide $500 toward a degree, continuing education or professional development in the family and consumer sciences area -- Schadler's program focus during her career as an extension educator.

"The award began as a local scholarship that was formed in Letie's name in 2002," said Katie Greenawalt, food, families and health extension educator based in Lebanon County.

Through local county fundraising and donations, Penn State Extension has awarded 24 scholarships to Lebanon County residents since 2002. Last year, the scholarship funds moved into a Penn State program-support endowment. The purpose of the endowment is to help grow and preserve the funds, Greenawalt said.

"The endowment will create a cash stream to use for this award every year, in perpetuity," said Greg Gnatt, area business operations manager for Penn State Extension. "We never have to worry about fundraising again."

Schadler began her career with Extension in 1969 as a home economist and family living agent. Her work mainly centered around foods and nutrition, food safety, and food preservation.

"We all need food, and people had a lot of questions about it," Schadler said. She advised restaurants, nongovernmental agencies, churches and civic groups about food safety and healthy eating.

Today, Greenawalt works in the same subject areas that Schadler did. "Whenever I've had any questions or issues with a program, she's given me advice on what she would have done in the situation," Greenawalt said.

In 1974, Schadler became the first female county extension director in Pennsylvania.

"Coming in as the first female county extension director was a huge accomplishment, especially in a male-driven field, especially in the field of agriculture," Greenawalt said.

The leadership role encompassed many responsibilities. "Back then, that person was totally in charge of the county office -- finances, facilities, educators, programming and relationships with stakeholders, such as county commissioners," Gnatt said.

For her part, Schadler greatly enjoyed the role. "I was always well received by my 66 male coworkers -- the county extension directors for the other counties," she said. "I worked hard at it. It was six years before the next female came along."

"I'm very grateful for the support that I've always had from the University and from Extension. I treasure the 30 years I spent working for the University. I appreciate their willingness to endow this award and keep it going."

Alletta "Letie" Schadler, retired Penn State Extension educator and county extension director

After retiring in 1999, Schadler said she immediately went into "caregiver mode." Her husband's kidneys began to fail, and Schadler donated one of her kidneys to him. Two years later, he contracted a virus that caused the donated kidney to fail. In December 2007, he died.

"Right after he died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer," Schadler said. She underwent surgery and radiation treatments to survive the cancer.

Then her stepmother's health deteriorated, and Schadler served as a full-time caregiver until the death of her stepmother last July.

Meanwhile, Schadler experienced her own health issues. She is working to rebuild her strength and gain weight. Last September, she joined an extension program called "Lifelong Improvements Through Fitness Together," a group-based strength training class for adults ages 40 and older.

"It's been very helpful, and I've reconnected with all kinds of people," Schadler said.

Schadler also keeps busy with positions on the board of directors for Matthews Public Library, First Citizens Community Bank and United Way of Lebanon County.

Plus, Schadler and her sister own an airport. Farmers Pride Airport sits right outside Schadler's back door in Fredericksburg and is home to antique and home-built airplanes. Her father opened the airport 75 years ago to fly in baby chicks.

"He was in the poultry business, and you couldn't get them any other way," Schadler said. She manages the airport and eats lunch with her tenants about once a week. "For an 86-year-old person, I think I'm hanging in there pretty well."

Gnatt calls the endowment "a beautiful tribute" to Schadler.

"I'm very grateful for the support that I've always had from the University and from Extension," Schadler said. "I treasure the 30 years I spent working for the University. I appreciate their willingness to endow this award and keep it going."

The deadline to apply for the award is May 15. Greenawalt encouraged applicants to "write from the heart" about their career goals related to family and consumer science.

"As a committee, we look to see that passion and that spark from an applicant," she said.

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