Sunday was the official start of this year’s Walk Kansas program.
Growing up on a dairy farm south of Lehigh, Sharolyn Flaming Jackson was active in 4-H. She said her involvement led to a passion for helping people, especially in the area of nutrition and good health.
Her mother died when she was 15 years old, which further enhanced her desire to promote good health decisions.
After graduating from Hillsboro High School in 1978, Jackson studied nutrition and health sciences and earned a teaching degree from Bethel College.
She was interested in extension, which required a degree from a land grant college, but she chose Bethel to be close to home and help her father and brother on the farm and in the kitchen.
Kansas State University Research and Extension Service gave her special permission to become an extension agent in family and consumer science, a service she has been engaged in for 33 years.
She said it has been a wonderful career.
“Extension makes the classroom available to everyone,” she said.
After five years in Chautauqua County in southeast Kansas, Jackson served in Riley County for 18 years, during which time she obtained a master’s degree from KSU. She has been an extension specialist at KSU for almost 10 years.
Her brother, Tim, has taken over the family farm, so she occasionally gets back to Marion County.
Jackson said she was working in Riley County in the early 1990s when Marty Reed, the head of cardiac rehabilitation in the county health department, noticed a trend of inactivity among his patients. Jackson collaborated with him to try to reverse that trend by creating a Walk Kansas type of program.
“It seems like we were a little ahead of the big push from the medical community in recognizing the negative impact physical inactivity has on general health,” she said.
The program was popular and soon expanded to neighboring counties. The official start of Walk Kansas on a statewide level was in 2001. It has grown from 5,000 participants the first year to an anticipated 15,000 this year.
Jackson said she enjoys working with people. Her goal is to help change the culture, to make it easier for people to make healthy choices.
“Everything we do is to help people in some way,” she said. “Health is so important, and with all the information out there, it’s important to have a trusted place to go.”
Jackson credits county extension agents for making the program successful.
“In my opinion, it is the county extension agents that provide leadership and support at the local level and carry this program,” she said. “Walk Kansas started at the grassroots level, and the buy-in from our local extension agents has been tremendous.
“For me, it is a dream come true to be able to manage Walk Kansas on a statewide level. It is the highlight of my career.”