Colonel. Farmer. Legislator. Two-time cancer survivor. Volunteer. Philanthropist. Husband. Great-grandfather. The list of titles held, and hats worn, by Merle Schotanus goes on. He was a devote community member who cared deeply about the state of New Hampshire. As the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension looks back on a remarkable life, we are saddened at his passing and forever grateful for the lasting impact he gave to our organization and to the Granite State.
Schotanus dedicated his life to public service with 70 cumulative years in elected and appointed offices at the local, county, state and federal levels, as well as many years of advocacy on behalf of UNH Extension.
Schotanus served for 20 years as a town moderator for Grantham, New Hampshire and represented Grantham, Plainfield, Springfield and Sunapee in the New Hampshire House of Representatives for 14 years.
Among his many accomplishments was forging strong relationships between UNH and the state. He served as a member of a legislative study committee in 1994 that resulted in revised legislation for UNH Extension and new Memorandums of Understanding between Extension and county government. In 1998 he was appointed by Governor Jeanne Shaheen to the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees and served until 2009.
John Pike, former dean and director of Extension whose career with Extension spanned 37 years, remembers Schotanus as a committed colleague and loyal friend.
“I had an opportunity throughout my career to interact with many legislators, Extension council members and university trustees. Merle served in all three roles and he was first class. Always dependable, he was ‘the real deal,’ moderate in his views, thoughtful and very savvy when it came to getting things done with a variety of people,” said Pike.
After obtaining degrees in political science and serving 25 years in the military, Schotanus began his second act as a farmer – a lifelong dream as the only son of an immigrant Dutch dairy farmer.
Schotanus opened Sugar Springs Farm in Grantham and spent 21 years cultivating the land he loved so dearly. When not sharing his knowledge of gardening and the fruits of his labor with family and friends, Schotanus was active in several regional groups and nonprofits including the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, the New Hampshire Farm Bureau, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the Nature Conservancy.
“I regarded him as a mentor who always gave me sound advice. I'll miss his wisdom, our chats, golf outings, martinis, political discussions and great friendship. He was sincere, genuine and authentic – values that are sometimes hard to come by especially given the state of today’s politics,” said Pike.
To continue to honor his legacy and all the important work he so readily took on, gifts can be made to UNH Extension in honor and memory of Merle Schotanus through the John Pike Volunteer Leadership Fund.
This fund provides resources for Extension’s volunteers through leadership opportunities and professional development. In 2020, Extension’s work was supported by 4,022 volunteers who donated 158,881 hours, reaching 53,091 people.
Extension volunteers dedicate their time to natural resources, education, citizen science, youth and families, economic development, gardening, wildlife, nutrition and more.