By Rick Miller
Richard Rivers, interim director of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cattaraugus County, has been named executive director of the association.
The announcement was made Aug. 1 by Cooperative Extension president Diane Clayson at the Cattaraugus County Fair, where county legislators were touring 4-H exhibits at the 146th county fair.
Rivers, a retired Cattaraugus County BOCES administrator from Duke Center, Pa., served as interim director since March 19.
He succeeds Suzann Cushman, who resigned in January after leading the organization for two years after it split off from a joint operating agreement with the Allegany County Cooperative Extension. Her charge was to rebuild the 4-H program, which now totals over 400 members in the county.
Rivers was director of Career and Technical Education for Cattaraugus BOCES for two years.
“I started at BOCES 40 years ago this month,” he said in an interview at the county fairgrounds.
Rivers retired from BOCES in 2002, when he and his wife moved to Melbourne, Fla. There he worked as a painting contractor, manager for a community association and building warranty manager.
Rivers and his wife were visiting family in the Olean area at Christmas time in 2013 when he ran into Cattaraugus-Allegany BOCES director Linda Quick.
“She asked me if I wanted to stay longer,” he said, and offered him an interim director post for his old job in Career and Technical Education. The job lasted for four months. He went back to Florida afterward.
Rivers daughter, who works at BOCES, heard about the interim director’s job at Cooperative Extension and thought of her father. He looked into it and applied for the interim post, which he was appointed to in March.
“I enjoy being busy,” Rivers said. He came to the right place then. Cooperative Extension has a handful of employees, down from the group’s heyday when there were many more employees and an active agriculture program.
“As a kid, I was a 4-H-er,” said Rivers, who remembers demonstrating how to build birdhouses. He was also involved in the 4-H Teen Council in Broome County where he grew up near Binghamton. “We did things to raise money for their (Cooperative Extension) building.”
“I kind of felt at home here,” River said. “These are good, down to earth people. The job is very rewarding. It’s very interesting.”
Rivers enjoys talking to 4-H members. He judged projects in the 4-H area in the Corporate Building last weekend. “I talked to one boy who was shy at first, but he opened up by the third project.”
He feels the confidence that builds in 4-H members as they work on their projects and raise animals for show is one of the most important things 4-H can accomplish.
“I’m looking forward to working with the board in developing a five-year long-range plan” for the organization, Rivers said.
Working from the results of a four-county agriculture survey, Rivers said Cooperative Extension hopes to expand its agriculture service that had dwindled over the years from staff layoffs.
“We’re going to start with an agriculture workshop this fall with the Cornell Vegetable Program,” Rivers said. Also planned are a dairy farm tour and agriculture discussion groups.
“We’re starting small and building on our successes,” Rivers said. “We’d like to maybe start with a part-time agriculture person in the next year.”
A grant writer, Rivers said he is going to be looking for grants to help expand the local Cooperative Extension offerings.
Rivers took the opportunity on Aug. 1 to meet with county legislators attending the 4-H Tour at the county fair.
“They are putting a lot of money into Cooperative Extension,” he said. “It’s a chance for them to see what we are doing here.”
In the end, he said, “It’s all about the kids. We’re here to support them.”