Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 10:32 am | Updated: 12:01 pm, Wed Aug 13, 2014.
Shirtless and in tennis shoes and cut-off shorts to fight the blistering July heat, the then-18-year-old Winnsboro High School graduate shoveled methodically.
Sun up to sundown, Dale Perritt helped his father keep up the family’s East Texas dairy farm. Now, four decades later, the SFA Department of Agriculture chair and AgriLife Extension’s Man of the Year remembers that hot July day in detail as a turning point in his life.
“After my senior year in high school, I was out helping clean up the lot behind the dairy barn, because you know what the cows do when they’re standing in a pen,” Dr. Perritt recalled. “So, I was shoveling manure and putting it in a manure spreader, (near where) my dad had an electric fence.
“I walked back into the electric fence and it hit across the back of my legs. I still remember like it was yesterday. I threw the shovel at the barn and said, ‘Daddy, I am going to college.’ And he said ‘I don’t blame you, son. I would have too if I could have.’”
Education would be a focal point of Perritt’s future as he pursued a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in agriculture with a goal of pushing agriculture education.
“I was the first graduate in my family,” he explained. “Agriculture was my connection to life and the real world. I knew that was the occupation for me. I wanted to get into a helping profession where I could help others succeed.”
Because of those decades of championing agriculture education, Perritt was recognized in July as Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s Man of the Year for Region V.
Former Nacogdoches County Extension Agent Chad Gulley, who now serves in that same role for Smith County, nominated him.
Appreciative though he was, Perritt said recognition is not what keeps him in the business.
“Of course the awards are wonderful, and this is one of the nicest awards I’ve ever gotten because it’s a statewide award,” he said, “but the thing that really makes it all worthwhile is when a student comes back 10 years or 15 years after they graduated just to see me — just to come say ‘hi, how are you doing’ and ‘I appreciate the education I got here and all the things faculty and staff did for me while I was here.’ That’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Since beginning his career with SFA in 1981, Perritt has worked with others in the department to fulfill a Texas A&M Extension requirement that agents achieve a master’s degree within their first eight years on the job.
“Getting the information out — that’s the reason this extension service is so important because they are in the business of adoption and diffusion of new technology,” Perritt said. “Even from 1914, when the Smith-Lever Act was enacted and the first extension agents were put in the field, their whole focus was to improve the status and productivity of American agriculture.
“They do that through finding out what the newest technology is, having workshops and field days, getting that information out to the local producer.”
Perritt said the U.S., in his mind, leads in agriculture because of the focus on renewing agriculture education.
“The U.S. will continue to be the greatest (in agriculture) as long as those systems of educating the public are in place,” he said. “We are getting further removed from the farm, so it’s critical to keep that link so that young people know what was involved in the production of (their) food.”