She is a statewide expert on home-canning produce, a consultant for the Food Network and the friendly face helping at each year’s bake-off at the fair.
This week, Linda Souchon received one of the state’s highest honors for her 27-year career in Johnson County.
At the end of this year’s fair, Linda Souchon will retire from her position as director of the Purdue Extension-Johnson County office. To mark her dedication and commitment to informing and educating residents across the state, Souchon was given the Sagamore of the Wabash award, joining presidents, politicians, astronauts and ambassadors.
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“Linda went above and beyond in the community, and her commitment and dedication is why I think she was deserving,” said State Rep. John Price, who presented her with the award. “There are good people that do a lot of good things, and then there are great leaders that go above and beyond, and Linda demonstrates that.”
For 41 years, Souchon has dedicated her life to education. She began as a teacher at Southport High School and moved to other central Indiana schools. In 1988, she took a job at the Purdue Extension office as an educator in health and human science.
“Linda once told me, ‘Education is the greatest gift you can give to a human being, it’s the one thing that empowers them to change their life,’” Souchon’s assistant Diane Wyman said. “The more information they have, the more they can become, and that’s what she does with her passion.”
Souchon has focused on food preparation and preservation education.
During her tenure, bacteria have evolved, and food-borne illnesses have become more dangerous, Souchon said. Helping people prepare and eat food safely has been a continuing challenge.
Souchon has studied and analyzed food preparation, specifically to protect people against salmonella, and aided those who grow their own vegetables and can them at home.
She has received phone calls from people asking how to home-can or if they’re canning their vegetables the correct way. She often corrected dangerous practices that put people at risk for illnesses, such as botulism, which attacks the nervous system and can be deadly once it reaches the lungs, Souchon said.
Other times, people have asked to come and speak to her in person, bringing multiple examples of their home-canning and setting them across her desk for her to review. One man drove from Hamilton County to ask if he was canning his vegetables correctly, she said.
Several years ago, a senior editor from the Food Network called Purdue University seeking information on a recipe that aired on television, because viewers called with concerns that the recipe wasn’t safe. After making the recipe herself, Souchon spoke to the Food Network for more than an hour, explaining the issues and discussing solutions of canning and packaging the recipe to sell in stores.
Since then, she has become a consultant for Ball Corp., a food canning and packaging company, while continuing to answer questions about food and nutrition issues used by the TV network.
When Purdue University gets calls about food preparation or preservation like home-canning, they’ll direct the caller to her because she is one of few experts in the state who can answer many of the food- and nutrition-related questions, Souchon said.
Souchon also has dedicated time to educating people about healthier eating habits, such as food and nutrition, or food demonstrations through Crock Pot cookery.
Her biggest project, Dining With Diabetes, was an effort to introduce foods that weren’t a risk to those with the diagnosis but might never have crossed a person’s mind as something that would taste good and be safe to eat while living with diabetes.
The program reached its highest number of people in 2013 when almost 800 people from 21 counties attended the program.
Souchon wanted to reach people in any way she could and also contributed a column to the Daily Journal for the past 27 years.
“I love my job. I have always tried to provide as much information in my programs and my work as I could,” Souchon said. “I do research because a lot of people know the basics, so I try to look at what is new out there that I can pass on that might be a help to an individual, that they can pass on. I try to do that in every single program I do.”
Souchon will be most remembered for the lives she’s touched and influenced and the hundreds or thousands of lives she’s likely saved through the information she has provided, Wyman said.
“Her goal is to give the very best of herself to every opportunity she has to interact with a person, and it has been the most awesome thing to watch,” Wyman said.
The impact Souchon’s work has had on so many lives is why Price, Wyman and so many others who have worked with Souchon wanted to honor her with an award as prestigious as the Sagamore.
When Souchon packs up her belongings in her office, she’ll leave behind the hundreds of books that have how-to information, recipes and remedies, along with plenty of rich advice for her successor.
“I’m going to miss the people. I just wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I’m an educator at heart, and that’s what I’ve aimed to do. If you’re in it long enough and around it long enough, you can see that change in people. I’m going to miss that the most.”
Name: Linda Souchon
Job: Director, Purdue Extension Johnson County. Worked for 27 years to help Indiana residents avoid food-borne illness, and with canning and packaging of food.
Previous work: Teacher in central Indiana for 14 years, after graduating from the University of Indianapolis.
What else: Served as a food and nutrition and food preservation consultant for Food Network and Ball Corp.