Not long after her second daughter was born, June L. “Holzwarth” James needed to find a job. Times were tough on the family’s Hazel farm and they needed a second income.
“Some were critical of my decision to work outside the home; ‘How could I take a job and leave my babies,’” recalls James of the decision she made to work as a Hamlin County Extension Agent when the farm couldn’t support the young family of four.
It was the early 1960s and most mothers did not work outside the home.
To make it in her new role as a working mom, James says it took a strong support group made up of her parents, a babysitter and her husband, Keith. “I worked very hard to balance – to be a good wife and mom and be good at my job. I had to build a support team.”
Throughout her 30-year career serving as an Extension Educator, the 2017 Eminent Homemaker would share this valuable advice with many mothers she mentored through the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. “I had many young farm mothers ask me, ‘I have to go back to work. How do you do it?’ I think it helped that I could relate,” says James, who spent most of her Extension career serving as the Codington County Extension Educator.
James’ belief in team building extended to her professional life. “You don’t do this job alone. Let me tell you. I worked to recognize the talents and skills of community members and volunteers and asked them to help out,” she says.
Whether it was asking someone to serve as a 4-H leader, help her develop leadership programming for the Watertown Farm Show, or start a Senior Citizen Club – James enjoyed mentoring and encouraging. Recognized for her strength as a leader, late in her career, James was elected to serve as President of the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Educators. In 2007, she was recognized with the Spirit of Dakota Award.
“It’s just amazing to have those around me who are willing to do things that I didn’t know how to do or things that were not part of my skillset.”
When James initially applied for the Extension Educator position in Hamlin County, she was in the midst of becoming certified to teach in South Dakota. She began her career in the classroom teaching home economics to high school students -- first in rural Montana, then in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
After growing up on a farm near Hazel, James enjoyed city life and had no intention of returning to her rural roots…that is, until she met Keith James.
“I was home on summer vacation and my brother, worried that I’d become an Old Maid, set me up on a blind date with a new farmer who recently moved to town. We clicked,” she says.
Although she never dreamed of returning to Hazel, she did consider a career as an Extension Agent to be her dream job. “I was a 4-H member and had seen what my County Agent did and how she worked with us kids. I always thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a job like that.’”
James retired in 1995. She continues to volunteer as an Achievement Days judge and remains an active community volunteer and columnist, writing for The Best of Times and Cattle Business Weekly. She continues to live and work on the farm where she and Keith raised their daughters, Linda and Robin. Today, her nephew farms the land.