To measure the achievements of retired Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s (ACES) Dennis Evans, look no further than the graduates of a program he developed for agricultural leaders.
Evans helped initiate the Alabama Agriculture and Forestry Leadership Development Program (Leaders) in 1983, and its 220 graduates are among the Southeast’s top agricultural leaders.
This legacy earned Evans the Alabama Farmers Federation’s highest honor — the Service To Agriculture Award — which he’ll receive at the organization’s 95th annual meeting in Montgomery Dec. 4-5.
“The Leaders Program was the true love of my professional life,” Evans said. “I wouldn’t take anything for the experiences of working with the outstanding participants and partners the program had through the years.”
Program graduates include Federation President Jimmy Parnell and Organization Department Director Mike Tidwell plus several current and former staff members, county Federation leaders and state board members.
“On a personal level, the Leaders Program changed my life,” Parnell said. “It opened doors that I doubt would have opened otherwise. I graduated from the program knowing I could make a difference in Alabama. It helped me understand how actions at the state, national and international levels affect Alabama farmers. The relationships I formed with my classmates and others in the agricultural community continue to help me and our organization.
“Dennis’ leadership has served as a model for development of the Federation's A.L.F.A. Leaders and similar programs among commodity groups,” Parnell added. “It was the most impactful Extension program in the past 20 years.”
Tidwell said the two-year program improved his communication skills and taught him about government structure and the value of relationships.
“It’s hard to put into words what the program did for me,” Tidwell said. “We took national and international study tours, which gave me a better perspective of agriculture globally and enhanced my appreciation of different countries and cultures.”
Evans' agricultural education began as one of 13 children raised on a dairy and beef cattle farm in Louisiana. He received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Northwestern State University, a master’s in the same field from Louisiana State University (LSU), a doctorate of education in Extension and international education from LSU, and an MBA from Auburn University at Montgomery.
His professional career began as a graduate assistant at LSU. He worked as a research associate and project coordinator for the Louisiana Capital Area Health Planning Council in Baton Rouge before joining the Georgia Cooperative Extension staff in 1975. He moved to ACES in 1977.
Evans held several jobs over nearly 42 years with Extension, but he said the role of leadership specialist gave him the most satisfaction. Being directly associated with the Leaders Program for its 23 years earned him the Outstanding Director Award in 2006 from the International Association of Programs for Agricultural Leadership. Reflecting on numerous honors and awards, including the Service To Agriculture Award, Evans remains gracious.
“For a kid from a dairy farm beside a muddy bayou in Louisiana, I think it’s been a good ride,” he said. “I am humbled by what my work life has given me.”
The parents of three children, Dennis and his wife Carol live in Auburn. They have three grandchildren and expect a fourth grandchild in early 2017.