Congratulations to an Extension legend.
As a high school student, John Woeste had no specific aspirations beyond graduation until a 4-H program brought him to the University of Kentucky campus for a week. He was repeatedly told he would be returning to campus later as a college freshman. After a week of hearing the message and seeing how campus life suited him, he came to believe it, and he was one of only 3 in his graduating class of 76 to go on to college.
As an undergraduate he got up at 4:30 a.m. daily to milk cows before class to earn tuition money. Again, he had no plans for more than a bachelor’s, but his first boss at the University of Kentucky did. That boss sent him away to get a master’s degree in Wisconsin, setting Woeste up to eventually return and succeed him as county Extension director.
Woeste had other mentors who guided him to a Ph.D., to Extension administrative roles in Kentucky and Wisconsin and ultimately to apply for the dean of Extension position in Florida.
As UF/IFAS Extension dean he never forgot all the support he’d received. He led Extension from 1976 to 1995 – the second-longest tenure ever — and in the 28 years since has been paying it back through volunteerism for the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and on the board of the UF/IFAS Advancement Council (until recently known as SHARE Council) has helped generations of students, Extension professionals, researchers and teachers.
As dean, he led Extension with vision. Woeste instructed his county faculty to spend a day each week going beyond traditional programming to work on an innovative special project. Sounds a lot like what Google instituted decades later with its 20 percent rule.
Woeste spent his “retirement” raising scholarship money for agriculture students. With a little financial assistance, he hoped these students could engage in leadership activities and internships. That’s the philosophical foundation on which the current VP Promise fund was built.
Woeste has generously shared his experience with me over several breakfasts. He tells a story of being confronted by a stakeholder who threatened to appeal one of his hiring decisions to a higher power. Woeste offered the complainant E.T. York’s phone number!
Woeste laughs as he recalls consulting in private with a fellow administrator about how to tell an administrative assistant just outside his door that she’d have to take the cover off her new word processor and stop using her IBM Selectric.
You’ll get more stories at his Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame induction next month.
You’ll get a sense of not only the professional but the patriarch. Woeste, his wife, Martha, and all six of their sons and daughters and their spouses will be there. He’s still counting up how many grandkids might attend.
We were proud to honor Woeste in September with the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni and Friends Award of Distinction. The Hall of Fame is Florida’s tribute to celebrate nearly half a century of contributions to UF/IFAS and agriculture.