If you ask Ronnie Helmondollar, opportunity begets challenges, and challenges beget opportunity. It’s not a strange notion for Extension agents in their daily work across the state, but for Helmondollar, it resonates a bit more as director for the Agriculture and Natural Resources programs for the West Virginia University Extension Service.
From a young age, Helmondollar has been aware of the opportunities that surround him, knowing that sometimes those opportunities come in surprising forms, such as livestock.
Both sets of his grandparents owned small scale agricultural operations, and as he grew up he got firsthand experience with the work involved in being a successful farmer. He saw the value in the work his grandparents did and took it to heart.
“They planted seed for a love of the land and the hard work behind it,” he said.
A few years later, when a friend invited Helmondollar to a 4-H livestock club meeting, his interest was already piqued.
Through 4-H, he made connections, got to pursue a passion, and eventually, experienced results of Extension programming.
Helmondollar went on to earn a bachelor’s in agriculture from Ferrum College and a master’s in animal and veterinary sciences from WVU. After graduation, he kept his eyes open for an opportunity with the organization that ignited his passion.
“I took my first job with the WVU Extension Service back in 1991 as a one man operation in Taylor County with three days until 4-H camp opened,” said Helmondollar. “I jumped right in—and I’ve learned a lot through the years, specifically the value of partnerships and a support system for the work we do.”
With more than a decade of service to Taylor County, Helmondollar took a job as the agriculture and natural resources agent in Randolph County. The field was the same, but the differences in the counties and people made for a new experience.
“It was definitely a change,” he said. “But, I think that a background in both a small county and a large county has prepared me to really understand the complexities of how both operate, and through that understanding, I can support agents in their work statewide.”
While Helmondollar’s work focuses on all things agricultural, he has a professed soft spot for beef cattle production and youth agriculture programming, the latter of which he says was not only vital to him, but vital to West Virginia as a whole.
“I think it’s important to pay it forward and provide for the next generation what was provided to me through those sorts of programs,” said Helmondollar.
Now, he has the chance to not only provide for the future generation, but for his program unit as well.
“I view this as an opportunity to give back to the organization that has given so much to me,” said Helmondollar. “Before being named associate dean, Jennifer Williams laid the groundwork for many valuable and great projects within the unit, and I’m humbled to be chosen and to have the support of my colleagues to continue to provide opportunities for those seeking our help—it means a great deal to me.”
Helmondollar works with WVU Extension specialists and county agents to provide statewide, evidence-based educational programs in agriculture and natural resources focused on both youth and adult audiences.
The Unit offers programs in such areas as livestock production and management, grassland management, environmental stewardship, horticulture, forestry and farm and risk management.