March 10, 2020
LeadAR co-founder, verification innovator among 6 inducted into Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame
By Tracy Courage
U of A System Division of Agriculture
- Vaughns, former agent, co-founder of LeadAR program inducted
- Woodall, specialist who implemented cotton verification, inducted
- 99-year-old retirees honored by peers in industry
LITTLE ROCK — Two longtime extension employees of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture were inducted March 6 into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame and recognized for their contributions to the state’s largest industry.
World War II and Korean War veteran Thomas Vaughns of White Hall, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, was recognized for his decades-long career in agriculture which included farming, working 20 years as a Crittenden County extension agent and 4-H leader and 14 years as a horticulture specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
William E. “Gene” Woodall, of Little Rock, was recognized for creating the Cotton Research Verification Trials which helped cotton farmers find efficient and profitable production methods. His 26-year career with the Cooperative Extension Service included serving as an agent in Pulaski, Yell and Monroe counties and later as a cotton specialist at extension’s state office in Little Rock.
Vaughns, Woodall and four other recipients in Class XXXIII were inducted during a ceremony at the Embassy Suites ballroom in Little Rock. The event was sponsored by Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
“I’m so delighted to be here today to accept this honor,” the 99-year-old Vaughn told a crowd of about 600 who stood to applaud him. “When I was 7 years old, I wanted to be a county agent for two reasons. They knew things your dad didn’t really know, and the second was that being a county agent, I didn’t have to pick cotton and chop cotton.”
It took Vaughns 25 years to realize his dream because of life’s interruptions – first World War II and then the Korean War.
Vaughns was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed group of African-American flyers and maintenance crews who escorted bombers during World War II as part of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Vaughns trained as a mechanic for the B-25.
He graduated in 1949 from Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College, which is now UAPB.
As an extension agent Vaughns implemented a pilot project for those with small farms. Beginning with 30 acres of vegetables in 1955, the enterprise grew and resulted in 2 million pounds of produce annually and the employment of 1,400 people within six years. His leadership led to the establishment of the Arkansas Vegetable Growers and Market Association Cooperative, an organization that helped families save their farms, produce income and provide jobs. The program was replicated in five counties and 6,000 people were employed by 1969.
Vaughns also led an active 4-H program and co-founded the LeadAR program, a leadership program of the Cooperative Extension Service.
“County agents do more than raise cotton and corn and soybeans, sorghum, chickens and turkey,” he said. “They help raise opportunities for young people to go to college and universities.”
Woodall, also 99, also expressed gratitude for his extension career.
“I want to thank the extension service for providing me an opportunity to work in an area of agriculture where my heart really was,” Woodall said. “When I came to Arkansas, I fully expected that I would work a while and go into farming. However, the opportunity never presented itself. I realized I was not going to be a farmer, so I thought if I could work with farmers, that would be the second-best alternative.”
His subsequent work changed the lives of cotton farmers by making the cotton industry profitable again. He believed low yields were due to imprecise application of recommendations and available technology, and the research trials verified that extension’s recommendations were sound and led to significantly increased yields.
Other inductees include George Tidwell of Lonoke, longtime chairman of the Arkansas State Plant Board; the late Leo Sutterfield of Mountain View, a cattleman and banker who served as chairman of the Arkansas Beef Council and a member of the Arkansas Farm Bureau board of directors; the late Albert “Gene” Sullivan of Mountain View, a conservationist who guided key water management programs; and the late Jane Ross of Arkadelphia, a timber landowner and philanthropist. Ross’ legacy lives on through a foundation that funds a photography contest for Arkansas 4-H members.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson congratulated the new inductees and said Arkansas enjoys “a long history of heroes in agriculture.”
“Our farmers and ranchers represent some of the best of us. They are determined, capable and survivors,” he said. “You understand the risk and the things you can’t control, but you continue to produce and invest, knowing the world depends on you.”
The new inductees bring to 175 the number of honorees in the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame, created in 1987 to recognize and honor individuals whose efforts in agriculture have led to the prosperity of local communities and the state.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
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Media Contact: Tracy Courage
Director of Communications
U of A System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service