Editor's note: "Community Champions" is a weekly feature in which area residents who are advocates for the community are profiled. To recommend someone for consideration, send an email with the subject line 'Community Champions' to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include contact information about the person and their background. Read previously published stories on columbustelegram.com.
The evening of Sunday, June 9, had a picture-perfect moment that Jill Goedeken will likely not forget anytime soon.
As the sun set, Goedeken and the kids in her Platte County 4-H Northern Lites club, as well as their parents, all spent a couple of hours installing a welcome sign near Highway 91 and 130th Avenue between Creston and Leigh. On this night, people of all ages were working and collaborating as a collective unit until the big green sign bearing the words “Platte County 4-H Clubs Welcome You!” was up for all to see.
“We were all digging holes, screwing the sign together, parents and kids were helping each other,” Goedeken explained. “Some of these kids have never worked with these tools before, but everyone was working together in a positive way and helping one another. It was a really cool experience. There were about 25 of us working together and making a positive impact.”
In essence, that’s what drives Goedeken: Aiding others. The Nebraska native is proud of her heartland roots and strives to make the community the best it can be, through her role at Nebraska Extension in Platte County, volunteering for 4-H and Lakeview Future Farmers of America, parenting her two kids and more.
“It’s really refreshing to know you’re spending your time with families, kids and community members doing something positive that is making an impact on your own children,” said Goedeken, who with her husband, Kyle, has two young kids, 8-year-old Kade and 4-year-old Kendall. “It’s a really good thing.”
GROWING UP ON THE FARM
A native of the small village of Utica in Seward County, Goedeken was born into farm life. Her parents had a diverse crops and livestock farm that featured corn, soybeans, cattle and hogs before its transition to being known for only the growing of corn and soybeans. At a young age, she got introduced to the world of 4-H in nearby York County as her mother was a 4-H club leader.
“At the age of 8, I had my own hogs and sheep that I showed for 4-H and FFA. It was a lot of responsibility taking care of them every day and working with them, but that’s really what I did,” she said. “I was always working with my livestock, working on my static 4-H projects and playing softball in the summers.”
Goedeken dived into all kinds of 4-H activities without hesitation. Besides her work with livestock, she participated in sewing and baking, among other things, when she got to junior high age. She was never afraid to get her hands dirty either, as she refinished several pieces of furniture as part of her 4-H work, as well.
She and her family were all about 4-H and FFA, as they routinely traveled for family vacations to various fairs to show animals and participate in hog shows. A lot of the time they did so with other 4-H families they were friends with and created friendships that are still strong.
“We had a great time,” Goedeken said. “We still get together.”
FINDING HER WAY
When the time came, Goedeken decided to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to obtain her bachelor’s degree in agriculture education while interning for the York County Extension office during the summers.
“My experience in FFA led me to that,” she said of why she pursued that particular degree. “I thought for a while I wanted to be an ag teacher.”
She moved to Columbus the Saturday after graduation and about a month later married Kyle, who she met through FFA while they were in high school and is from here.
Goedeken wasted no time getting involved in the community. When she wasn’t working for a pork production company that eventually was sold to Maschhoff Family Foods, she was helping out with the local 4-H program and other efforts early on. But in late 2011, she heard a staff member at the Platte County Extension office was leaving and decided to pursue the open youth coordinator role. That November, she was hired.
Then, in May 2012, she went back and got her master’s degree at UNL in about a year-and-a-half. That resulted in a promotion, as she became the office’s 4-H and youth development extension educator on Jan. 1, 2014. She has been in the position ever since.
“I really enjoy the 4-H families I get to work with,” she said. “When I think of quality of life for myself and my family, I think about how more enriched it is because of the families we spend time with.”
Goedeken has undoubtedly become a leader in the office. Megan Taylor, an extension educator of crops and water systems in Platte, Boone and Nance counties, has worked with Goedeken for about a year-and-a-half. She said her friend is a very driven person.
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“I think the best thing about working with Jill is she is definitely someone who gets things done. We get a lot of work done but it seems to go fast because we all enjoy each other’s company,” Taylor said. “She just has a good way of keeping everybody on task but makes it fun. She’s easy to work with and very task oriented.
"It’s nice to have one vein that connects all the parts.”
Goedeken has a reputation among many in the community as being selfless, which may come as a surprise to her. She simply does what she loves. Besides working for the local extension office, she volunteers by serving as a club leader. She’s also highly involved with Lakeview FFA, Lakeview FFA Alumni and numerous other local initiatives.
“She doesn’t want to be in the limelight, she doesn’t need to be in the limelight. She’s definitely a humble servant, that’s how she rolls,” said Lakeview FFA Alumni President and friend June Loseke. “But she’s also very much a leader and that’s why she’s so respected by everyone. She’s very kind.
“She gives us her time and she just treats people like they’re people. She definitely has a desire to encourage and make sure people’s needs get met.”
Loseke said Goedeken is simply a special person who helps make the community great.
“She’s an avid volunteer, she’s definitely a go-getter,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a project she doesn’t take.”
Goedeken is also very committed to and loves spending time with her family. In a way, things have come full circle. Her son, Kade, is now involved in 4-H, starting at the same age she did years ago. The family loves working on the farm and walking their pigs together, as well as helping Kade as he gets more involved with 4-H. They’re also known for enjoying some occasional camping trips.
“I try to balance personal and professional life,” Goedeken said, with a smile.
She and her husband are also pretty involved with their church, Christ Lutheran, and its accompanying school, where their children attend.
On a professional level, Goedeken said one of the most rewarding things she has helped the office accomplish was getting it moved out of the basement of the Platte County Courthouse to its current downtown digs at 2715 13th St. not long ago.
Goedeken acknowledged those at her office have stayed busy in the aftermath of March’s historic flooding that ravished much of the area and eastern part of the state, but noted it has been wonderful helping area farmers get back on their feet and watching many others donate their time to helping however they can. Goedeken said 300 people have put in about 1500 volunteer hours and that the Extension Office, along with Colfax County Extension, Lakeview FFA and Lakeview FFA Alumni, recently distributed approximately $60,000 worth of fencing to area farmers over five nights.
“I think Jill has done a lot for our community and youth and I think she will continue to do so. I think she will laser rocket to the top - I think whatever she does it just has to be done at a very high level. She is one of those people who takes everyone along with her,” Taylor said. “She pushes everyone to be better.”
It’s been more than a decade since Goedeken moved to town. It’s still surreal at times, but she said she wouldn’t change anything Columbus, as she said, is “a big small town.” She said she loves being able to go to the eye doctor and have everyone know her name and bumping into people when’s on the move.
“The thing about Columbus I think is it’s just big enough you have the amenities you need. Everyone would argue there isn’t enough here, but that’s always an argument no matter where you live,” she said. “I think ultimately it’s the best of both worlds.”
She added she enjoys the friendliness among residents and knows this is where she’s supposed to be.
“I think about how Columbus been home now for 12 years and I don’t think I could imagine it any other way. Maybe life could slow down a bit,” she said, with a laugh. “Honestly, Columbus is bigger than in community I grew up in but that’s not a bad thing. I love it here.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.