Thrun expects to be happy camper in coming months

RETHA THRUN is a familiar face to producers who have worked with the NRCS on projects. She will be retiring on Thursday.

Sometimes the little things are the greatest blessings. For Retha Thrun, it's coffee in the morning -- and time to think.

As she approaches retirement, she is prepared -- a compact canary yellow camper, a hoodie which reads "Happy Camper," and a to-do list to get her through those first months when she will be creating new personal routines after working for 40 years. But what she anticipates most is a leisurely cup of coffee in the morning.

"There will be no more rushing around. I can enjoy that cup of coffee at home," she said. "It's my time to think a little bit, my planning time."

On Thursday, she will show up at the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Madison for the last time as an employee. She will be drawing her second career to a close on that day.

Thrun worked in the transportation industry for more than 20 years prior to beginning work for the Lake County Conservation District about 18 years ago. She made that decision when her previous employer went out of business.

"I was forced to consider other options," Thrun recalled.

She quickly discovered, though, that in working with producers and in learning about different conservation practices she had found her niche. When a position opened with the NRCS, which is housed in the same building, she applied. She ends her professional career as a soil conservation technician.

The hardest part about leaving is the lockdown which has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. She will not be able to say goodbye to producers she has worked with over the years.

"I really enjoyed working with producers," Thrun said. "If they have a concern, something we can help with, it's rewarding on our end as well."

She has helped crop producers address problems such as soil erosion and livestock producers improve pasture utilization and water access. She has helped farmers put grass waterways in fields and cross fencing in pastures.

"I get to get involved with some of those practices -- designing, measuring, certifying completion of the projects," she indicated.

Although raised on a farm, and familiar with farming practices, she credits training and the assistance of specialists with giving her the skills she needed to do the job well.

"The training opportunities have been continuous," Thrun stated.

At present, though, she is looking beyond Thursday to the coming summer. She prepared by purchasing a 17-foot, canary yellow camper.

"I have visions of myself sitting there with a cup of coffee," she commented, adding that she's a morning person and will probably be enjoying the sunrise at the same time.

The compact camper isn't the first she's owned, but her previous one was larger and she needed her son to pull and park it. This one, she is able to manage herself and it has what she needs -- a bed, table, little kitchen and bathroom.

"Most of the time is spent outside anyways," she observed.

The easy maneuverability doesn't mean she intends to go great distances, though. She said there are a number of places to camp within a short distance of Madison.

"I have a group of friends I camp with," Thrun noted.

She said her grandchildren, which range in age from five to 21, have plans for her as well.

"Some of them seem to think I need to get a new puppy," she said.

She understands why they may think this. She's always had a dog, and the last one, a mix she had for 19 or 20 years, has died. She has not committed yet, nor has she committed to purchasing the Mustang that other grandchildren think she should get.

Right now, she's just considering the new routine which will be necessary after working for so many years. She knows she'll have more time for hobbies she enjoys.

"I really enjoy repurposing something," Thrun said. "I enjoy making quilts."

She's planning to make each of her 10 grandchildren a quilt for graduation, so that will take time. Too, she looks forward to going to auctions with friends where she finds many of the items she likes to repurpose.

"We go just because it's fun to go, but I've gone to very few when I haven't bought something," she noted.

In talking about repurposing items, she said some of the alterations are as simple as applying a coat of paint. At other times, she'll look at something and get an idea. If all else fails, she'll appropriate an idea.

"There are so many resources out there where you can get ideas that others have tried," Thrun said.

Her plans for the future are not simply about the recreational activities she will enjoy. She has other projects planned as well.

"I'm going to sneak in some home repairs. I have a list that will keep busy all winter," Thrun said.

As she looks forward to her last day at the NRCS, she also looks back at her career with much gratitude. She appreciates the opportunities she has had and knows she will miss the people she works with, both colleagues and producers.

"I've been very blessed," Thrun said.