SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Raymond Poe, who was in the Illinois House for two decades before being named to run the department in 2015, is retiring at the end of the year.
Gov. Bruce Rauner named Warren Goetsch to the $133,273-a-year director's job on a temporary basis as of Jan. 1, though Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, who takes office Jan. 14, is expected to name a variety of new department directors as his administration begins.
Poe, 74, served in the Illinois House from 1995 until Gov. Bruce Rauner tapped him to run the Ag Department in 2015.
"I always promoted ag," Poe said of his years in public life. "A lot of times, it was just making sure the people around the state knew how important agriculture is to Illinois."
When he was named by Rauner to run the department, he told the governor it would be time to retire after three years. Given his age, he said, "I think that means it's time to sort of enjoy the fruits of your labor all your life."
Poe, a lifelong farmer, and his wife, Carol, have three children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They also now have a condominium in Fort Myers, Florida. Poe said they could fit the mold of "snow birds" -- going to Florida when it's cold in Illinois. But he said they are "absolutely" keeping their Springfield-area home.
Poe served on the Williamsville School Board from 1970-1991, including being president for five years. In the legislature, he said, he worked on issues including education and public employee benefits, such as pensions. He also said one of the best things he participated in was creating tax incentives for farmers to plant grass filter strips alongside fields to prevent soil erosion and chemical runoff. He said the idea was picked up up by states across the country.
During this year's Illinois State Fair, Poe talked of his long relationship with that event, which is under the Department of Agriculture umbrella.
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"I've actually been on the fairgrounds for over 50 years," he said then. He said early on he worked at a stand selling cowboy boots and then worked the "manure crew."
"And then I got elected and started spreading it," he joked at the time.
On Monday, he credited Rauner with directing $30 million in state funds toward repairs at the Springfield and Du Quoin state fairs -- and also for making a donation, with his wife, Diana, through their family foundation, of $1 million to the State Fair's foundation for repair work on the Springfield fairgrounds' Coliseum.
"At least we got that on the right track," Poe said.
During his years of public service, Poe also faced a health scare. He traveled to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston in 2014 for a stem cell transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS. By the next year, he said the procedure was a success, and he said Monday that his health is good and now only needs a cancer checkup in Houston annually.
Goetsch, also a Sangamon County resident, had been chief of staff at the Ag Department and was named acting director in September 2015, when both then-Agriculture Director Philip Nelson and then-State Fair Director Patrick Buchen, both left those jobs. Poe called Goetsch "very capable."
"I would suggest anybody that gets that job to keep him," Poe said.
Rauner has also named two other acting department leaders as of Jan. 1: Matt Magalis of Springfield will be acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, taking over for Randall Blankenhorn, and Jack King of Frankfort, as acting secretary of the Department of Innovation and Technology, taking over for Kirk Lonbom.