Former Extension Faculty Honored

One of the reasons we can point to UF/IFAS Extension as one of the nation’s foremost outreach organizations is that our faculty keep accumulating honors after long careers of service. Recently, no less than three former faculty members who had long and influential careers in UF/IFAS Extension have received distinguished honors. Excellence, integrity, innovation and global reach are among Extension’s core values. Each of these people not only embody those values, but have helped us to define them by their example.

Marilyn Norman, center, with Nick Place and Michael Gutter at the 4-H National Conference Center, 2019.

Dr. Marilyn Norman was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame on October 11.
Marilyn has had a 38-year career as a 4-H leader. She came to UF/IFAS Extension from the University of Chicago and served as the State 4-H Program Leader from 2002 to 2010.

Her leadership came at a critical time for Florida 4-H. She implemented an ambitious strategic plan that was instrumental in making Florida 4-H into the modern and responsive youth organization we recognize today.

She led a successful grassroots legislative campaign to approve funding of $1.5 million annually, and created regional specialized 4-H agent positions to mentor and support county 4-H agents.

By forming partnerships with local communities, she gained support for 4-H camping and secured $500,000 worth of grant funding for Operation Military Kids. She also implemented a volunteer screening policy to ensure the safety of 4-H members.

Under her leadership, participation in 4-H Day at the Capitol grew from 100 participants to over 500.

Since Dr. Norman retired from UF/IFAS in 2010, she has been active in 4-H leadership and continues to act as an advocate for Florida 4-H. Most recently she has been working tirelessly to convince state legislators to reinstate $500,000 of a $1.5 million budget cut to 4-H programming.

Her most lasting legacy may be seen in the work of the 4-H faculty and youth she has mentored over her career. We owe a great deal of Florida 4-H’s reputation as the leading youth development organization to her leadership.

John Jackson, left, and David Ayers at a FAWN station in Lake County, 1998.

John L. Jackson has been inducted into the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame.

During his 38-year career as an Extension agent in Lake County, John Jackson worked to promote innovation and technology to advance Florida’s agriculture.
In the mid-1980s Jackson helped to create the Mid-Florida Citrus Foundation to coordinate research and Extension work in using reclaimed water for citrus irrigation. For his efforts in promoting sustainable agriculture, he received the Award for Superior Service from the USDA in 1991.

In 1997, Jackson collaborated with computer specialist David Ayers to develop the Florida Automated Weather Network (FAWN). Created after a devastating frost damaged much of South Florida’s vegetable crops, FAWN was designed to provide up-to-the-minute, localized weather data for Florida’s agricultural community. He later developed a FAWN Cold Protection Tool Kit to aid producers during freezes. In 2004, Jackson won his second USDA Award for Superior Service as part of the team that developed FAWN.

Jackson has also been a major supporter of educating youth about the importance of the citrus industry. He developed the Florida 4-H Citrus Project, which gives 4-H members an opportunity to grow citrus plants, keep record books on their progress, compete in skill-a-thons and offer them for sale at an annual auction and awards ceremony. Since the mid-1990s, more than 2,000 middle and high school students have participated in the program. The John Jackson Citrus Scholarship was established to award participants in the 4-H Citrus Tree Project.

He also helped to develop the annual equipment operators school, which is today called Farm Safety Day.

John retired from UF/IFAS Extension in 2006, but he continues to work as an advocate for Florida agriculture as the current president of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame.

John Jackson will be honored at an induction ceremony at the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame in Tampa on February 11. Other Hall of Fame inductees this year are Hugh Fred Dietrich III, a rancher, educator and auctioneer; and Robbie Roberson, a nursery operator and founding member of the Florida Foliage Association.

Gene McAvoy, Florida Farm Bureau Extension Professional of the Year

Gene McAvoy has been named the Florida Farm Bureau’s Extension Professional of the Year.

Gene McAvoy joined UF/IFAS Extension in 1997 after a wide-ranging career that included a faculty position at Rutgers University, twelve years in the Peace Corps working with small vegetable farmers in Niger (West Africa) and Jamaica, a stint in South Florida as an environmental specialist with the Department of Health, and a return to overseas agricultural work in Swaziland, South Africa. We are exceptionally fortunate that Gene decided to settle down in LaBelle for the next 22 years as the UF/IFAS Extension Director in Hendry County and the Regional Vegetable Extension Agent for Southwest Florida.

Gene’s expertise in vegetable production marketing, plant disease diagnosis and pesticide resistance have made him a valuable asset to farmers in South Florida. For many years, he has been the editor of the South Florida Pest and Disease Hotline newsletter and has contributed a pest-of-the-month column for Growing Produce. In 2016, he was inducted into the Syngenta Resistance Fighter Leadership Program, which honors agricultural advisors for their efforts to help growers battle weed resistance. The same year he received the UF/IFAS Global Internationalizing Extension Award for his work in advancing international efforts to improve pepper production. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Gene worked tirelessly to help coordinate relief efforts and report damage to local growers.

Most of all, he’s been a mentor for countless Extension agents and students, a vocal advocate for Florida Agriculture and a close friend to farmers and ranchers throughout the state and across the globe. When Gene retired from UF/IFAS Extension this July after a 22-year career, more than 200 Extension agents, stakeholders and ag producers attended his retirement party, and the local and agricultural press was overflowing with tributes to his exceptional service.

Despite being technically retired from UF/IFAS, he is the Associate Director of Stakeholder Relations for the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center. He’s also the president of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents, which provides professional development opportunities and lobbies on behalf of Extension agents nationwide. With the little free time he has available, he and his wife Donna work their cattle ranch in LaBelle. (Naturally, he’s also the secretary of the Hendry County Cattlemen’s Association.)

Gene will receive the Extension Professional of the Year award October 30 during the Florida Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting.

It gives me great delight and gratitude to offer congratulations to Marilyn Norman, John Jackson, and Gene McAvoy. You truly do Extension proud!

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