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Gamma Sigma Delta honors 2009 initiates for exceptional leadership and service to agriculture

Among those honored at the 2009 Gamma Sigma Delta initiation and awards banquet were (front, from left) Frank Grainger, honorary initiate, and CALS alumni initiates Walter Smith and Charles Keels, joined here by 2007 alumni initiate Dr. John Anderson (right). At back are CALS alumni initiates Tommy Burleson (left) and William B. Upchurch Jr.
All Photos by Marc Hall

Five faculty/staff members, four alumni and one honorary initiate of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences were honored April 22 for distinguished service and leadership by the N.C. State University chapter of Gamma Sigma Delta, the Honor Society of Agriculture. Dr. Greg Upchurch, CALS plant pathologist and president of the N.C. State GSD chapter, presided at the annual ceremonies recognizing academic achievement and contributions to agriculture by students, faculty, staff and alumni from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the College of Natural Resources.

The Collegeís faculty/staff initiates were Dr. Peter Balint-Kurti, USDA-ARS research plant pathologist and associate professor in the Department of Plant Pathology; Dr. Donald Wayne Cobb, district Extension director for the South Central District of North Carolina; Dr. Franklin Daniel, district Extension director for the South Central Region of the state; Dr. Wanda Dickerson Sykes, district Extension director of the Northeast District; and Kathryn B. Kennel, executive director of the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation Inc. of the Collegeís Advancement Office.

The CALS alumni honored at the initiation and awards banquet were Tommy Burleson, Walter Smith, Charles Keels and William B. Upchurch Jr., and Frank Grainger was recognized as Honorary GSD Initiate.

Burleson, center of N.C. Stateís 1974 National Champion menís basketball team, is an alumnus of the Collegeís Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. After a successful career in the NBA, he returned to Avery County where he is now director for Planning and Inspections in his home county, as well as a Fraser fir Christmas Tree grower. He has been an active member of the North Carolina Agricultural Foundation Inc. and served as president of the board. He was recently recognized for his life-long dedication and service to 4-H with the 2009 4-H Lifetime Achievement Award.

Smith graduated from N.C. State in 1976 with a bachelorís degree technical and biological engineering. He is currently Yadkin County executive director of USDA Farm Service Agency, where he manages an office for the Farm Service Agency. He owns and operates a poultry broiler houses growing for Wayne Farms Poultry Company and is currently serving on the Yadkin County Agricultural Advisory Board. Recognized for his dedicated service to the farmers in Yadkin County, he also was in charge of administering a USDA disaster program for farmers who had lost their crops in typhoons in the Pacific Territories of Guam, Rota, Tinian and Saipan and the Hawaiian Islands.

Keels holds a 1956 bachelorís degree and 1972 masterís degree from N.C. State, both in agricultural education. Beginning his career as an agriculture teacher in Randolph County, he also has served as a graduate assistant in agricultural education at N.C. State and as assistant state supervisor for Agricultural Education in the state Department of Public Education. In 1966 he was named State FFA Executive Secretary, a position he held until 1983 when he was promoted to head state supervisor for Agricultural Education and became the state FFA adviser. He retired in 1996 with some forty years of service to agricultural education and FFA in North Carolina. In his honor, the N.C. FFA Foundation has created the Charles L. Keels State FFA Officer Scholarship endowment, which awards educational scholarships for the state FFA officers.

William B. Upchurch Jr. currently serves as the executive director of the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, where he manages a grant program that has distributed more than $69 million to support and foster North Carolinaís agricultural economy. He holds a 1991 bachelorís degree in agricultural and extension education from N.C. State, where he was a Deanís List student, president of the Agricultural Education Club and a member of the Alpha Tau Alpha Honor Society. After graduation, he became an agriculture sales representative for Ciba-Geigy and then went on to positions as a news reporter, a cotton marketing specialist and a tobacco program administrator for the NCDA&CS under the late Commissioner James A. Graham. He has served FFA as state vice president and District III president and is an active member of the N.C. Agricultural Foundation Inc. board and CALS Alumni & Friends Society. In 2005 he was named CALS Outstanding Young Alumnus.

Honorary Initiate Grainger is a leader in the stateís tobacco industry, agribusiness, and economic development and in higher education. A native of Columbus County, he still is a tobacco grower there. Grainger started Fair Products in 1984, which manufactures and distributes tobacco crop care products, and was instrumental in forming the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina. He has served as a university trustee, as a co-founder and chairman of N.C. Stateís Economic Development Coalition Ė 2000, as a founding member of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Alumni Society (now Alumni & Friends) and as a board member of the North Carolina Tobacco Foundation, Inc. He is serving his second term on the UNC Board of Governors.

Gamma Sigma Delta was founded as a professional agricultural fraternity at The Ohio State University in 1905, and it has been operating as an honor society since 1917. Since its beginnings, Gamma Sigma Delta has encouraged the advancement and improvement in all branches of agriculture and related sciences such as forestry, natural resources and veterinary medicine along with the agricultural industry.

-- Terri Leith