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Tolson, Etheridge and Blalock honored, Collins Endowments created at annual joint foundations luncheon meeting

Gathered at the joint luncheon meeting of the N.C. Agricultural and Tobacco Foundations are Dean Johnny Wynne, Keith Collins, Margie Collins, Rep. Bob Etheridge, Dr. Carlton Blalock, Norris Tolson and Chancellor Jim Woodward.Photo by Becky Kirkland

The joint luncheon meeting of the N.C. Agricultural and Tobacco Foundations on Nov. 11 was quite a red-letter day for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. That’s because the meeting was occasion for the annual presentation of the Ag Foundation’s two Distinguished Service awards, along with a special presentation to one of CALS’ 2009-2010 Distinguished Alumni and the signing of an endowment in the College that’s part of a planned estate gift of approximately $2.5 million to N.C. State University.

Dr. Johnny Wynne, CALS dean, who hosted the luncheon at the University Club ballroom on the N.C. State campus, welcomed the group to the 19th Annual Joint Fall Luncheon of the North Carolina Agricultural and Tobacco Foundations, which also included the N.C. Dairy Foundation for the first time this year. “Our College is very fortunate to have friends and supporters like all of you here today.  We appreciate all that you do for agriculture and the life sciences in North Carolina,” Wynne said.

Larry Wooten, president of N.C. Farm Bureau and a member of the Ag, Dairy and Tobacco Foundation boards, presented the invocation, which was followed by remarks from Dr. James Woodward, NCSU chancellor.

“Thanks to all of you assembled here today for the truly wonderful leadership and support you provide for the College and N.C. State,” Woodward said.  “Your willingness to spend your time and resources for such a noble cause helps make N.C. State the great institution it is today.”

He then congratulated the day’s honorees: Norris Tolson, 2009-2010 CALS Distinguished Alumni Award winner (along with Dr. Calvin McNeill, who received his award at the College’s Alumni Awards Reception in October); Dr. Carlton Blalock and U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, the 2009 Agricultural  Foundation Distinguished Service Award winners; and Margie and Keith Collins, N.C. State alumni whose planned gift will establish endowments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and in the College of Engineering's Department of Computer Science.

“Norris Tolson serves as an N.C. State Trustee and is the consummate public servant. We are so fortunate to have Norris as a leader in North Carolina and N.C. State, as he has been the ‘go-to guy’ for so many state agencies needing strong leadership,” Woodward said.

Woodward called Blalock “an agricultural innovator and someone I’ve heard described as a diplomatic icon who has served our state’s citizens for the last 60 years. He has been a servant leader who has enriched the lives of thousands of citizens in our state and country, always thinking of how he could work with the state’s political and educational leaders to make a real difference,” he said. Woodward, the former chancellor of UNC-Charlotte, also mentioned talking with Blalock about Dr. Dean Colvard, who was the first UNCC chancellor, as well as a former CALS dean and faculty member. Colvard mentored Blalock’s master’s thesis at N.C. State. “What a wonderful connection to have reinforced today,” Woodward said.

“Congressman Bob Etheridge exemplifies what it means to serve the people of North Carolina,” Woodward said. “He is a friend and advocate for N.C. State University, the College and all of agriculture in North Carolina and the nation.”

And to Margie and Keith Collins he said, “I cannot express enough our appreciation for your transforming gifts to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Engineering. Your generosity will serve as an inspiration to students and future donors for generations to come. Please know that at a time when economic news is not always so good, your gift is especially important and meaningful.”

Tolson, a 1962 CALS crop science graduate, has served in the N.C. House of Representatives and as the state’s Secretary of Revenue, as well as secretary of the state’s departments of Transportation and Commerce. He is now president and CEO of the N.C. Biotechnology Center. A member the L.L. Polk and Pullen lifetime giving societies at N.C. State, he serves on the university’s Board of Trustees, College of Education’s Foundation Board and Alumni Association Board of Directors. Within the College, he has been adviser to and fund-raiser for the CALS Alumni and Friends Society. In March 2009, Tolson was honored with the Watauga Medal, the highest non-academic award bestowed by the university.

In accepting the Distinguished Alumni Award, Tolson, an Edgecombe County native, said, “One of the things I hold dear at N.C. State is that it is a literal door-opener for people like me from rural North Carolina – a doorway to the rest of the world. I’m proud to be of that heritage and to come from a group of people like you who serve North Carolina so well.”

Distinguished Service Award winners Blalock and Etheridge were honored for outstanding service to and support of the College.

Blalock holds a 1948 bachelor's degree and 1952 master's degree in animal husbandry from the College, as well as a 1963 doctorate in extension administration from the University of Wisconsin. Blalock first served N.C. State and farmers across the state as a dairy specialist before being selected as the second state 4-H Leader, a position he held from 1964 to 1970. He was then promoted to director of the N.C. Agricultural Extension Service and served on the CALS administrative team until his retirement. In 2006 he was honored as a National 4-H Hall of Fame laureate, and during the 4-H Centennial Celebration in 2009, he was also inducted into the North Carolina 4-H Hall of Fame.

Blalock thanked the Ag Foundation and the College and reminisced about his travels as Extension and 4-H leader, when he found that other schools were “jealous of our foundations here at N.C. State and programs such as Nickels for Know-How.”

Etheridge serves on the Committee on Ways and Means in the 111th Congress, considered one of the most powerful committees. In addition, he serves on the Subcommittee on Trade and the Subcommittee on Oversight and is a member of the House Budget Committee. He is a long-time a champion of USDA special grants, including CALS projects that support aquaculture, animal waste management and crop pathogens. As a part-time farmer, Etheridge plays a unique role in protecting and promoting North Carolina's agricultural interests. And, as the only former state schools chief serving in Congress, he has emerged as one of the Capitol's most influential voices for school construction, character education, early childhood development, youth safety, college aid and other education issues.

A strong advocate for higher education and N.C .State University, he supported increased funding for USDA biofuels research and development in the 2008 Farm Bill. He was also an unwavering champion of the tobacco buyout legislation.

Margie Collins, a 1979 CALS horticultural science graduate, who has had a successful career in nursery sales and as the local accountant for one of the largest legal firms in the Southeast, now assists nonprofits using her accounting skills. Keith Collins, a 1982 Engineering graduate in computer science, is senior vice president and chief technology officer at SAS Institute.

The Collinses’ outright and estate gifts will include a distinguished professorship and multiple endowments to benefit students in excess of $2.5 million. At the luncheon, they signed the Margaret “Margie” P. Collins Fund for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The new fund is already providing annual support for the CALS Ambassadors program and two CALS student leaders' scholarships,” Wynne said. “And when this legacy gift is fully realized, it will establish several named endowments to benefit the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

These include the Margie Collins Endowment for the JC Raulston Arboretum, the Margie Collins Endowment for the CALS Ambassadors, and the Margie Collins Scholarship Endowment for CALS, that will benefit students in 2-year and 4-year programs and in the Thomas Jefferson Scholars programs.

In addition, their estate gifts will establish several named endowments to benefit the College of Engineering, including the Collins Distinguished Professorship in Large-Scale Systems, the Collins Leadership and Computational Excellence Scholarship in Computer Science and the Collins Computer Science Department Discretionary Fund.

Said Keith Collins, “There’s no greater honor for Margie and me than to pay back to the university and pay it forward to the students who come here to N.C. State.”

In conclusion, Wynne thanked the Collinses and told them, “You are joining good company, as just in the past two weeks, we have had a $2.5 million commitment for the Frank and Grace Pelt Parker Environmental and Agricultural Sustainability Endowment, a $500,000 gift from the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission for the Certified Safe Farm Program for North Carolina Agriculture and a $500,000 commitment for a scholarship program for immigrant workers and their families.”

Said Wynne, “This has been an outstanding month for gifts to our College.”

Terri Leith