September’s Employee of the Month could be called a human encyclopedia. Sharon Bairow-Riffey has been the front office professional/receptionist for the Riley County Extension Office for the past 28 years and she can help you do your taxes, tell you how to test your soil, and steer you away from major mistakes in home canning.
Sharon was nominated by her supervisor, Gary Fike, for her excellent customer service, especially for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. This year, she fielded more than 500 phone calls and messages during tax season. (Sharon will tell you it was 535, not including call backs, but who’s counting?)
Sharon grew up in Kansas. Her family had a farm in Pottawatomie County, and she participated in 4H where she learned a variety of skills that translated to her life as well as her career.
“My parents inspired me; they were really good examples and very organized people. I watched them teach others, take care of problems, and help people, and I wanted to do the same,” said Sharon.
Sharon’s educational background is in family and consumer science, and she originally planned to be a teacher. Her career took a different path, and she credits her time as a telemarketer in the collision repair industry with teaching her excellent customer service skills. In that role she learned to talk to people all across the country and discovered the importance of staying positive. Sharon says she chose to stay at Riley County because of the people, the positive environment, and because she gets to help others.
“The Extension Office is a nice place to spend the day,” says Sharon. “Every time I pick up the phone it’s something different. All Extension Offices are amazing – you can come here to find answers and get help with all kinds of different problems. Across the nation, if you know about Extension, then you know those people have the answers.”
Sharon had many examples of strange and interesting questions she’s heard over the years. Once, someone came into the office with a blue pumpkin that had somehow been cross-pollinated with another kind of plant. Folks often call wanting to know what ingredients can be substituted in a recipe, and several people have called to find out if it’s safe to can food in the oven instead of in a water bath (it is absolutely NOT safe to do that). Sharon often has to convince people that just because they read something on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true.
In her free time, Sharon enjoys baking, gardening, and being with her family. Sharon is married with stepchildren, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. While she has never figured out how to get rye bread to turn out right, she makes delicious breads, cakes, and cookies.
Sharon is an asset to Riley County and a great example to follow. If you have questions, she’d love to visit with you and help find the answers.