After a nationwide search, Ronnie Helmondollar has been named program director of the West Virginia University Extension Service’s Agriculture and Natural Resources unit, effective Monday, April 3.
No stranger to the WVU Extension Service mission, Helmondollar’s appointment comes after serving on the administration team as the interim program director since 2015 and at the county level with 26 years of experience as an Extension agent.
“Our Agriculture and Natural Resources program is vital to many audiences around the state, from backyard gardeners to some of West Virginia’s largest agricultural operations,” said Steve Bonanno, dean and director of the WVU Extension Service. “I’ve known Ronnie for a long time and the work he accomplished through the years gives me confidence that those programs are in good hands and will continue to flourish as Extension heads into the future.”
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 later took a job as the agriculture and natural resources agent in Randolph County.
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.
His future plans include working with faculty and staff to develop and improve programs that meet the needs of West Virginia’s farm families.
“It’s an exciting time to be in agriculture,” said Helmondollar. “During the last State of the State address our Governor has identified agriculture as a major opportunity for the state and as a path to improve West Virginia’s economy — to know we can breathe more life into the state’s future makes our work that much more important.”
Connecting the people of West Virginia to the University’s resources and programs is the primary goal of WVU Extension Service and its 55 offices throughout the state. Local experts, like WVU Extension’s agents and specialists, work to help improve the lifestyles and well-being of youths, workforces, communities, farms and businesses through trusted research in the counties in which they serve.