Health education director retires

Twenty-seven years after she first began teaching the public about health-related topics, Auglaize County’s health education director says she is ready for something else.

Janet Bassitt didn’t intend to find herself in the health field after studying home economics education, but after three years doing such work with the Ohio State University Extension Agency and handling special litter and recycling projects in a 33-county area, funding for her position there expired and she applied at the Auglaize County Health Department.

“They were looking for someone with a background with families and I was qualified,” said Bassitt, whose last day on the job is today.

She was hired, but never knowing what could happen, she continued to work toward her master’s degree in education in case she tried again for an extension educator position. The higher level degree was required and she wanted to be prepared for anything. As it turned out, she never left the Health Department.

“I liked the variety,” said Bassitt, who later became a certified health education specialist and was certified in family and consumer sciences.

Her graduate coursework in food and nutrition built on  her family and consumer sciences background as an undergraduate.

“I studied to be a school teacher, but I don’t know how I would have liked going into the classroom and being there all day,” Bassitt said. “This job was always different and you didn’t always know what to expect.”

She said meeting all the people is what she will miss most about the job.

Bassitt’s first priority with her job was working on grants and to start promoting the Health Department. Later she also took on the role of public information officer to get information out to the public in times of disaster.

“When I first came into the job, there were a couple of funding sources, but we would lose those and I had to look for other sources,” Bassitt said. “I’d work a few years on one project and another year on another project. It was all about health education. It was good to have the variety.”

Bassitt worked primarilly in preventative areas to educate the public and covered topics such as nutrition, physical activity, tobacco, AIDS, chronic disease self-management and cardiovascular health. Topics were funded by particular grants.

Through her work, Bassitt created a lot of informational directories, conducted trainings, served on boards and coalitions with representatives from other counties, and distributed free educational materials.

Bassitt said schools had more time for her visits before they were “teaching for the test.”

Collaborating with others was one of her favorite parts of the job through the years and Bassitt said she always had fun getting together with them to discuss ideas, formulate plans and work together at implementing them.

She served as the area leader for Ohio Action for Healthy Kids starting in the post eight years ago when the program began and through her role was able to distribute mini grants and provide trainings throughout an eight-county region — awarding 85 grants valued at more than $24,125, since 2006.

One such program, “Tools for Schools,” became especially popular and Bassitt liked seeing the participants enjoy it as she worked with them toward better nutrition, physical activity and promoting school wellness policies.

Other highlights of her job including the celebrity buzz when Dick Schafrath, a former football player on the Ohio State Buckeyes 1957 national championship team and the Cleveland Browns NFL championship team in 1964, visited to promote good health. Creating a walking challenge also was exciting for Bassitt.

Growing up in St. Marys and living just outside of Wapakoneta with her husband, Bassitt also had a broad knowledge of the county, which helped a lot in her work.

Deciding now was the time to retire, Bassitt said her husband retired a few years ago and funding cuts would have impacted her position. Combined with her time working for OSU Extension, she also had 30 years put into the state system.

While Bassitt knows she will miss the job, she has been so busy trying to finish up projects, she said she hasn’t had time to dwell on it.

“My husband and I like to travel,” Bassitt said. “Before, we always had to do it between projects, but now we can go when we want without worrying about running out of vacation time.”

Already they have a September trip planned to Europe, seeing eight countries in 15 days.

Bassitt also plans to finish scrapbooks of her other travels and photo albums from when her children were growing up, as well as to spend more time with her family, and maybe get even more involved at St. Joseph Catholic Church, where she already serves as a cantor and sings in the adult choir and folk group.

Bassitt and her husband, Robert, have three grown sons, Michael, David and Brian, and two grandchildren. Michael and David live out of state, and Brian lives in Columbus. They will be amongst those she plans to spend more time with, as will her in-laws and mother, who recently suffered a stroke.

“I plan to play the piano again, get back to enjoying photography and butterflies,” Bassitt said. “I have a long list of things I can do.”

Bassitt said despite leaving her position at the Health Department, she plans to stay involved, maintaining her roles serving on the board of the Auglaize County Council on Aging and as the Auglaize County representative to the area agency on aging.

“I sat on a lot of committees so it was a hard decision which ones to stay on and which ones to go off,” Bassitt said.

Mentioning a saying written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta, Bassitt said it was the way she felt about her job sometimes.

“There were good days and some days were bad, but it gave me the inspiration to keep doing what I’m doing because I thought it was the right thing to do.”