The Wakulla News presents 6/4/2020
Article By WES MAYBERRY
The Wakulla News Staff Writer
Williams comes to Wakulla
from position as residential horticulture
agent in Sarasota County
“There will never be another Les, and I will never try to fill his shoes,” he said. “I will come to work with my own shoes on and will do the best for the county and university that I can.”
The well-traveled Williams brings impressive credentials and extensive professional experience with him to his new position. After growing up in California, he earned a master’s degree from Kansas State University and then worked a dual-state job as a horticultural therapist and adult education instructor in New Jersey and Maine. He later took a job in New York City before starting to pursue his Ph.D. at Washington State University and then transferring to finish it at Texas A&M University. That led to teaching jobs at Murray State University in Kentucky and Sycamore High School in Tennessee, and then, in 2017, he went to work for the University of Florida Extension in Sarasota County.
“I followed my daughter, who is a recent graduate of Florida State University, to Florida, and I became a Gator,” he said.
What ties many of those jobs together? One word — horticulture. Williams, who taught 22 different horticulture classes at Murray State, got bit by the metaphorical horticulture bug when he was 13 years old making planters. Then came a chance encounter with former Notre Dame University football coach Andy Fletcher at a fall festival.
“One of the people who visited my group was Andy Fletcher, and he offered me a job at age 13. I worked for him for three years, and at that point, the horticulture bug was in me, and I never looked back,” he said. “I always credit Andy for putting me on the path to horticulture.”
A self-described “lifelong horticulturalist,” Williams celebrated his third year as residential horticulture agent in Sarasota in April but was seeking a job in an area with much less rapid development.
“The rate of expansion in Sarasota is constant. You see another 150 acres being cleared to put in homes, and part of that nature-lover in me takes a punch to the gut,” he said. “I wanted to come to a place that has natural land that is going to stay natural land, and Wakulla County certainly has that.”
Williams realizes that future development in Wakulla is inevitable but cites himself as one who is particularly qualified to help the county maintain as much of its natural beauty as possible.
“Knowing that there will be some development in Wakulla County in the coming years as the population increases, I’ve learned from my position in Sarasota how to help when natural areas are disrupted for homebuilding to put it back in a better way to make it more environmentally friendly,” he said. “My hopes are that some of that experience with help with future development. One of the big draws was how to help Wakulla County as it starts to expand to keep it a natural county.”
While working in Sarasota County, Williams’ main duties included managing the Master Gardener program, assisting in 4-H and youth development programming and consulting with county residents and Home Owners Associations on landscaping topics. He’s looking forward to continuing many of those duties in Wakulla and has already been in talks with local 4-H agent Rachel Pienta about possibly instituting the Learning in Florida’s Environment (LIFE) program here.
“That’s been a big youth program I’ve been involved with for the past three years — it’s getting kids out of the classroom and out into nature,” Williams said.
He’s also aiming to increase awareness of the Extension and its services.
“Part of my mission coming in is that I want people to know that there is an entity that connects the county to the University of Florida that is here to help,” he said. “We add to the community and make it stronger through people utilizing our services.”
During his current transition period, Williams has had many conversations with Harrison, who has made himself readily available to answer questions, offer advice and provide a tour of the area.
“Les has been very supportive from our very first conversation,” Williams said. “He’s the nicest guy you’ll meet, and Wakulla County is very blessed to have had him in this role the past eight years.”
Harrison plans to continue offering his support even in retirement, Williams said.
“Even though he’s retired, Les plans to come in and help with the transition and introduce me to people,” he said. “He wants to make sure that my transition is as productive and smooth as possible.”
Article By WES MAYBERRY
The Wakulla News Staff Writer
|The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions, or affiliations. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A&M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating