UW-Extension leader remembered

Gloria Hafemeister
 Friends and co-workers of Ayse Somersan who passsed away earlier this year gathered at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center in Monona recently to plant a tree in her honor.  On hand at the event were her husband Ergun, daughter Zeynep Turna, Franklin, WI, son Mehmet of Sarasota, FL.  She also has another son, Deniz, in  Istanbul, Turkey.  Pictured are Ayse’s husband, son and daughter who took part in the tree planting in Ayse’s honor.

MONONA -  Family, University of Wisconsin staff and alumni of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program (now known as Leadership Wisconsin) came together on a cold Saturday in November at the Aldo Leopold Center at Monona to plant a tree in honor of Ayse Somersan, who passed away on April 17, 2017 at the age of 75.

Somersan, who had an exemplary career with UW-Extension and UW-Madison as a teacher, applied researcher, extension educator and university administrator, was a mentor to many.  During a brief program at the remembrance gathering many of those who knew her reminisced about how she influenced their lives.

Rural Leadership Alumni described her with words like, “a strong role model,” “a motivator,” “one who stretches you to get you out of your comfort zone.”

She was described as one who would not take a bump in the road as an excuse to take another road or quit the journey.  When things got difficult, she didn’t hit the brakes – she hit the gas pedal.

As a teacher, she didn’t just give information.  She enticed her students to want to learn more.

Travelling with the participants in the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program to their out-of-state and out-of-country seminars, she impressed on them the importance of having an open mind and learning to lead.

As a lasting remembrance the group planted a tulip tree, a very special tree in the Turkish culture, with an inscription “To be in your company has been a great reward.”

Born Aug. 15, 1941 in Istanbul, Turkey, Somersan attended Robert College in Istanbul, where she met her husband Ergun. They were married in 1965. She did her graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Fulbright scholarship, graduating with a Ph.D. in international economics in 1969.

Somersan joined UW-Extension and was employed there for 25 years as an educator and administrator, serving as the dean and director of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension from 1988 to 1996. She was a key influence in building what is widely recognized as the strongest community resource development extension program in the United States.

In 1986, she became a faculty member in the UW-Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. She quickly developed and taught a new course about the International Agricultural Economy which became one of the most popular in the department’s offerings. She had a special ability to make economics understandable and enjoyable, both in the classroom and to adult audiences through her extension work.

Upon retirement, Somersan accepted a position as economics professor and vice-president at Koc University in Istanbul.