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‘She knew everyone’

As she starts retirement, Yvonne Girard reflects on her nearly 40 years working with the Lyon County Farm Service Agency

Photo by Deb Gau Marshall resident Yvonne Girard spent close to 40 years working with area farmers through the Lyon County Farm Service Agency office. She retired at the end of April, but she says getting to know the people she served was something she loved about her job.

Yvonne Girard said one of the great things about her job was the people.

After close to four decades working with area residents through the Lyon County Farm Service Agency office, she got to know a lot of them.

“It got to the point where they would call on the phone and I would recognize their voices,” Girard said. “Not only do you talk about farming, you get to know them on a personal level.”

She said it’s something she will miss, as she starts a new part of life. Girard retired at the end of April, after more than 39 years with the Lyon County FSA, where she was a program technician.

“You look back at 40 years, and it doesn’t seem that long,” Girard said.

Girard’s experience and knowledge were part of what made her good to work with, said David Schreiber, the county executive director of the Murray County FSA office.

“She knew everything and everyone,” Schreiber said. But Girard also had more than experience, he said — she had built up good relationships with farmers in Lyon County. “She knew them all, and they looked forward to their visits to the office.”

Girard is originally from Pierre, S.D., but Marshall became her home.

“I liked Marshall, I liked my church community,” she said. She was first hired as a temporary worker at what is now the Lyon County FSA office, and then applied for a full-time opening. The FSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that works with farmers and government farm programs, ranging from disaster assistance to programs like the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

“Things definitely changed over the years,” Girard said. The agency she’s been part of has had different names. When she started working, it was for the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. The ASCS was one of the USDA agencies that later became the FSA. But through it all, Girard worked to help area farmers navigate the government programs available to them.

“There have been lots of changes and lots of different programs,” some of them driven by changing agricultural conditions and trends, she said. For example, the extreme wet weather of the past several years led to a lot more disaster programs. Girard said early in her career she used to work with programs affecting honey producers, because there were commercial honey producers in Lyon County. She’s also worked with programs like farm storage facilities loans and commodity loans, and dairy programs.

That’s one area of farming that has definitely changed in Lyon County over the years, she said.

“There’s a lot fewer dairies,” she said.

Even the office technology has changed a lot since the 1980s. Girard said she remembered working with a machine called an addressograph, which was used to print information like names and addresses on paper forms. Now, a lot of forms are electronic.

Girard said it was the connection to people — both co-workers and area farmers — that was a memorable part of her career.

“Farmers are the best people,” she said. “It’s hard work they do, especially the ones who raise livestock.”

Her last year of working with the FSA was hard, partly because COVID-19 restrictions meant members of the public couldn’t visit the FSA offices in person, she said. Before the pandemic, a big part of her work was meeting with area farmers, instead of having people mailing or dropping off forms.

“It’s not really the way I thought I’d retire,” Girard said. One positive thing was that the offices in Marshall had big front windows, “So at least we got to see people,” she said.

She said she’s also thankful for her co-workers.

“I have had amazing co-workers over the years,” she said. “They have all touched my life in some way.”

Schreiber said the Lyon County FSA announced Girard’s retirement in its electronic newsletter for April. “We got a lot of calls and cards,” from area farmers, he said.

Girard said it was “overwhelming” to receive the response.

“I got some really nice phone calls,” she said.

“It really is different,” Girard said of her first days of retirement. But so far, she’s still had plenty to keep her busy, like volunteer work for the American Red Cross. She also plans to spend more time with family, including her grandsons in Iowa. She said she’ll be spending Mother’s Day with her mother in South Dakota this year.

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