As a constant fixture in the Pettis County 4-H community for more than 30 years, Lori Gerke feels it is time to say goodbye. Friday afternoon was Gerke’s last day as the 4-H youth project administrator for the county, but before leaving her office one final time, a steady stream of well-wishers and supporters came by to say thank you for all Gerke has done in service to area youth.
“Lori genuinely cares about each and every 4-H’er she has ever known,” Kay Sparks, MU Extension 4-H Youth Specialist, said. “She has a history of each family that she has worked with and that kind of knowledge can’t be replaced.
“She has just touched so many lives in her time in our office,” Sparks added. “She simply bleeds green.”
Although Sparks has been Gerke’s supervisor for a number of years, she saw the two as a team of equals.
“Even though I am technically her boss,” Sparks said. “She is my rock and the best mentor I could ever have; I couldn’t do so much of what I do without her.”
The first project the two women worked on was a hatchling program at an area school. It was there that Sparks realized she had known Gerke much earlier in their lives.
Sparks went to school with Gerke’s older brother and did not realize she and Gerke had been acquaintances since her last name had changed with her marriage.
Sparks went on to comment about how people live in a “small world.”
“We both went to school in Windsor, and knew each other,” Sparks said. “It was our work that brought us together and made us friends.”
Volunteer work, a Windsor connection and eventually a 4-H connection is the bond between Gerke and her best friend and business associate.
“We met in 1983 when Lori and I were given the task to make a wishing well for our children’s PTO project,” Nancy Burkhalter, Pettis County 4-H Foundation president and MU Extension Council president, said. “Little did we know that the project would bring us a friendship where we have stuck together ever since.”
Burkhalter said she and Gerke do things together all the time, from working together to spending holidays and time together with their husbands when their spouses are not busy in the fields.
“Now that she is retiring, we’ll have time to travel and do the things we have wanted to but haven’t had the opportunity to do because of our busy schedules,” Burkhalter said.
The two women have already planned an upcoming trip to Jamesport to visit some quilting supply and fabric stores.
“I plan to be home and garden and quilt and spend time with my grandchildren,” Gerke said. “Even though I am retiring, I will still volunteer with the 4-H, I want to continue to see my kids and the work they do.”
In her job, Gerke was responsible for planning the Pettis County Achievement Days, livestock and horse shows, 4-H Camp and the Clover Kids Day camp among other events.
For her commitment and efforts, she was recognized as the Outstanding Youth Associate in 2007, and received the Pettis County Alumni Award in 2009.
“I will always follow the generations and the families as they grow,” Gerke said. “Anytime I was able to watch the kids win and succeed at something that was always special to me.”
For Burkhalter, saying goodbye to her friend in this capacity in her life will be difficult.
“Lori is a staple and so passionate in her work,” Burkhalter said. “You don’t meet Lori and not like her immediately.
“She has an infectious laugh and all the kids come back to her,” she added. “There is simply no way she will ever be replaced.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484