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UF/IFAS recognizes supporters at annual Dinner of Distinction

On Dec. 10, UF/IFAS honored supporters, alumni and partners at the 2021 Dinner of Distinction. This celebration highlights the commitment of individuals and organizations to the UF/IFAS mission areas of teaching, research and Extension.

Elisabeth DeLuca, UF/IFAS Champion

Elisabeth DeLuca’s gift of the DeLuca Preserve to UF in 2020 was one of the largest gifts of land ever made to a university in the nation. The 27,000-acre property — which includes cattle ranchlands, citrus groves, wetlands and forests — is one of the last refuges for the endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow and hosts many other state and federally listed species such as the Florida panther, gopher tortoise and the red-cockaded woodpecker. In addition to helping conserve native ecosystems, the preserve provides unique opportunities for UF faculty, staff and students to discover answers to big questions impacting agriculture and natural resource systems. Work done there will also create opportunities for community collaboration and large-scale research, which will set UF apart from its peer institutions.

Ducks Unlimited, Friend of UF/IFAS

With the shared desire to protect the important wildlife habitat and natural values on the DeLuca Preserve in perpetuity, Ducks Unlimited partnered with UF to set up a conservation easement on the property through its land trust, Wetlands America Trust. This partnership between IFAS and Ducks Unlimited is unique in that it is the first easement held by Ducks Unlimited in the state of Florida and the largest easement in the history of Ducks Unlimited. It creates a rare opportunity for research collaboration between organizations that ensures the long-term stewardship of land, protection of native species, and conservation for the headwaters of the Everglades.        

Morris Steen, UF/IFAS Volunteer of the Year

Morris Steen grew up in Taylor County on a farm in Shady Grove, where he was an active 4-H’er. After graduating from the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Steen pursued a decorated 27-year naval career and later served as president of North Florida College. In 2018 Steen joined the Florida 4-H Foundation Board of Directors and actively led the campaign for 4-H Camp Cherry Lake in Madison, Florida. These efforts continue to drive success toward future phases of camp revitalization. Additionally, Morris and Judy Steen created an endowment to provide maintenance funds for 4-H Camp Cherry Lake in honor Morris’s childhood 4-H agent and lifelong mentors Henry and Nell Davis. The expanded educational and recreational pavilion at Cherry Lake was dedicated in memory of the Davises on April 9, 2021.

Russell and Pam Hyatt, CALS Alumni and Friends Award of Distinction

Russell and Pam Hyatt are alumni of the University of Florida surveying and mapping program now known as geomatics. Russell and Pam started Hyatt Survey Services in Bradenton in 2002 and were twice recognized as part of the Gator100, the 100 fastest growing Gator-owned or -led companies in the world. The Hyatt’s are committed supporters of the UF Geomatics Program, providing monetary contributions, recruiting students, and even providing free tuition to any of their employees who wants to further their surveying education. Russell has served on the UF Geomatics Advisory Board for almost 30 years and is a member of the School of Forest, Fisheries and Geomatics Sciences Advisory Board.

Trey Warnock, CALS Alumni and Friends Horizon Award

Trey Warnock never planned to attend the University of Florida, but when he joined a friend for a campus tour and learned about the UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, he set out on a career in the cattle industry. In addition to completing several internships, Warnock representing UF on the meat judging and meat-animal evaluation teams, working at the UF Beef Teaching Unit and conducting undergraduate research. His faculty mentors encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree, during which served as HACCP coordinator for the UF Meat Lab. He began his professional career as an intern at Amarillo Brokerage Company, where he eventually became an owner of the company as well as other related companies. Today, Warnock and his wife Chelsea give back to the programs that were critical in his development. He serves as a regular guest lecturer for animal sciences courses and the couple generously named the front porch of the Beef Teaching Unit after his Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brother and late friend Sam Tripson.

Florida Sugar Cane League, UF/IFAS Industry Partner Award

UF/IFAS and the League began working together in the 1960s to develop more productive sugarcane varieties. Today, this research partnership allows the industry to stay at the forefront of sugarcane genetics, pest management and sustainable production practices. The League’s gifts of more than $13 million support UF/IFAS sugarcane research around the state and includes support for lab equipment and related materials. The league also supports the FAWN network, which provides valuable weather information to Florida’s agriculture growers.

Larry and Debbie Swindle, IFAS Extension Advocate Award

The Swindles’ advocacy and generosity have developed resources for a number of UF/IFAS programs, including the Dr. Jimmy Cheek CALS Ambassadors Endowment, Dr. Larry Arrington Extension Internship Endowment, Dr. Joe Joyce Endowment and the Dr. Nick Place 4-H Leadership Endowment. In 2004 the Swindles honored lifetime-friend Dr. Larry Arrington’s leadership, including as Dean for Extension, with an investment to cultivate future generations of Extension professionals. With this support, CALS students explore career opportunities and complete summer internships alongside agents throughout Florida. In 2018 the Swindles surprised long-time friend Nick Place, former dean of UF/IFAS Extension, with the creation of the Place 4-H Leadership Endowment, providing youth with opportunities to participate in 4-H programs.