Zastrow honored in retirement for touching lives around her

Farm Forum

For 32 years, an Aberdeen woman has taught programs and developed ways to cope with life’s problems within the home and family structure.

From working with youngsters in the Discovery 4-H program to senior citizens, Marj Zastrow has touched thousands of lives through her position with the South Dakota State University Extension Service. Her vast knowledge of wellness, meal planning, food preparation and nutrition helps individuals and families extend their resources and improve their well being.

On Sept. 11, she was honored at a retirement open house at the Aberdeen Regional Extension Center.

In 1982, Zastrow began her career as the Extension Home Economist in Union County. She was to educate women, especially in rural areas, regarding useful and practical information on subjects relating to home economics.

Since then, she’s taught young people to make jam and set a table the correct way, she’s worked with a group that facilitates services for needy children, she’s guided a wide range of women in the Community Family Education Leaders program and she’s steadfastly advocated for food safety. She’s also been a champion of senior citizens.

Zastrow moved to Brown County in the mid-1980s and served as an Extension educator in family and consumer science until 2011. Her title changed in the reorganization of the South Dakota Extension Service. She was appointed as a nutrition field specialist in the Aberdeen Regional Extension Center, where she has focused on worksite wellness, meal planning and nutrition.

While Zastrow’s worked with all age groups, she has most enjoyed the senior citizens.

“Once you get to know them, most are a real joy to visit with about many topics,” she said.

As the aging population has increased, Zastrow has sought ways to provide financial counseling. Important aspects of have been in helping older people understand Medicare prescription drug costs and coverage.

Since 2011, the focus in her job is on nutrition and well-being from a statewide basis. She’s found the success to working with communities is to network with those who are passionate about issues.

“You can have the information at your fingertips, but what makes the difference, to carry the idea into the community is to develop partnerships,” Zastrow said.

4-H program

Longtime 4-H leader Brenda Artz of Aberdeen gave an example of Zastrow’s work with 4-H kids.

“Marj had a way of working really well with kids,” Artz said. “When kids were naughty, she had a way of disciplining kids, made them pay attention and then turn around and she’d be their best friend. She could talk them into doing things that I couldn’t. She knew what she was doing.”

Zastrow explained that unless young people can see the relevance in what they’re doing, it doesn’t do any good to push information at them. If it’s not relevant, then it’s not fun.

“I’ve known Marj since 1992,” Janet Elsen said. “She’s always been a great person to work with. She has a great way with the kids. They have respect for her and looked up to her. She’d teach them to make jam and breads, work with them on the fashion review. She’s been a good influence on the kids and that continues.”


Suzanne Stluka, SDSU Food and Families Extension Program director of Brookings, has worked with Zastrow for the last nine years.

“She’s been a mentor,” Stluka said. “I started out with the Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program and she showed me the ropes, so I looked to her for guidance. Now she’s moved on to programs like worksite wellness. We’re sad to see her go. She’ll be leaving a legacy with some of the projects that’s she’s started.”

Zastrow’s strength has been her connection to the community, according to Stluka.

“At heart she remembers she’s a consumer, too,” Stluka said. “She’s so practical. She knows how consumers are going to want information. Whether it is flooding or promoting health in the community, she was always willing to find the answers.”

In the next week, Zastrow will share with her replacement, Megan Erickson, how she’s connected with the community and ways work can continue.

For more than 20 years, Zastrow was the supervisor for Elsie Wells of Aberdeen for the Brown County nutrition programs.

“I think the work she did with Senior Health Information and Insurance Education program, and the senior citizens was her forte,” Wells said. “That and working with the women in the Extension clubs.”

As far as a favorite story, Wells said, “Marj always impressed me with her pie crusts. She’d mix it up and then put the ball between two sheets of wax paper and it would come out perfect. It always turned out for her, and if I tried to do the same thing, it was terrible. “

Zastrow is passionate about gardening and preserving food, according to Wells.

Zastrow didn’t just teach healthy eating, she lived it without a lot of sugar or junk food. If you asked her to bring a dish to a potluck, she’d likely bring a fresh green salad.

Coordinating services

Zastrow, according to Susan Cybulski who worked with her on the board for the Aberdeen Child and Adolescent Service System Program, positively affected numerous families in the area. The program seeks to provide a comprehensive mental health system of care for children, adolescents and their families

“Marj strives toward more of a holistic approach when working with folks,” Cybulski said. “She is a great listener and if she knows of a service or resource that folks could benefit from, she is great about sharing that contact inform with them to benefit the whole family.”

Cybulski said that Zastrow downplays her role, but she was instrumental in getting the Dakota Smiles dental van brought to the area.


Working with Zastrow on the Senior Health Information and Insurance Education program for 26 years, Joyce Dahme of Aberdeen said that Zastrow is very skilled at organization.

Dahme said that “Marj lets you learn from the information she has. She’s there and she keeps up with everything. … Even now, she gets calls from people even through it’s not in her job description.

“She’s always been there for me, always able to find the answer I needed,” Dahme said.

Follow @farmeditor54 on Twitter

Megan Erickson will be the new nutrition field specialist at the Aberdeen Regional Center starting on Sept. 22. Erickson will be responsible for providing leadership to the projects that Marj Zastrow initiated.

Erickson is a registered dietitian and graduated in May with a master’s degree from Texas Woman’s University. She is a South Dakota State University graduate, having received her bachelor’s degree in dietetics. She most recently served as a pediatric dietitian at the Children’s Hospitals & Clinics of Minnesota.