Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources
Payne County’s Nathan Anderson honored as 2017 OSU Cooperative Extension Distinguished Educator recipient
Left to right: Nathan Anderson accepts his 2017 Distinguished Educator Award from Jim Trapp, OCES associate director. (Photo by Todd Johnson)
A state agency that is part of Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, OSU Cooperative Extension county educators and specialists have a state and federal mandate to develop science-based educational programs that help Oklahomans solve local issues and concerns, promote leadership and manage resources wisely.
Norman Durham of Payne County’s Durham Ranch and the former dean of the OSU Graduate College and former associate vice president of academic affairs has worked extensively with Anderson for decades.
“Nathan has the ability to identify and develop meaningful educational programs for a broad spectrum of the community, combined with an easy personal and professional management style that encourages others to participate and succeed at a very high level,” he said.
Durham added his interactions with Anderson as a university administrator, livestock producer and as a member and officer of different county and state organizations has given him an extensive, firsthand opportunity to witness the 2017 Extension Distinguished Educator recipient’s ability to serve Payne County and Oklahoma under a variety of situations and circumstances.
“Nathan is readily accepted by all areas of the community and the importance and success of his programs to local residents have been widely recognized, including his outstanding service as vice chair of the Payne County Tax Advisory Committee,” Durham said.
An OSU animal science alumnus – class of 1985 – who grew up in the small town of Cache in southwestern Oklahoma, Anderson will celebrate 30 years in Extension come February, including responsibilities for Payne County educational programs relative to animal science, plant science, 4-H youth development, and rural and economic development since 1995.
Having started his Extension career in Texas, Anderson quickly learned every county has its own opportunities and challenges. Payne County was no different, a fact pointed out by then veteran OSU Cooperative Extension District Director Ronnie George when Anderson applied for the position.
“Ronnie shared there were those in Extension afraid of the Payne County position,” Anderson said. “Not only would I be following a long-term and highly respected agent, OSU’s main Stillwater campus is located at the county seat. When I write a news article about a subject, any subject, the expert in that subject is one of the local readers.”
No pressure. Not a bit. Still only twice in Anderson’s two decades as Payne County’s Extension agricultural educator has a state specialist called to question what he wrote, and even then it was mostly only about word selection.
“When you’re a county educator for all administrators, department heads and most state specialists, you have a different ‘local audience’ than other Extension county offices,” Anderson said. “When I moved here, I was the youngest in the office at age 32. Mary Selk, Brett Morris, Dea Rash, Ella Vogle and Fern Downey were hugely supportive and provided excellent guidance for me.”
Since that time, Anderson has hired nine support specialists and eight educators, in time becoming the longstanding Payne County veteran himself. In 2004, Anderson secured funding to hire a horticulture educator. Chris Stiegler, Kelsey McCullum and Stan Fimple have served in the position, with Keith Reed currently serving.
“I’m able to watch Nathan interact daily with clientele,” Reed said. “He has a gift for giving people the information they need, even if it might not be exactly what they (thought they needed and) asked for. His high percentage of regular and returning clients tells me they respect and value what he tells them.”
In 2008, Anderson secured funding to add a dedicated educator for community and economic development. DASNR veteran Suzette Barta, who had served as an OSU Cooperative Extension assistant agricultural economics specialist for eight years, was soon on board assisting local small business owners, non-profit organizations and others to solve issues of importance to the economic well-being of them, their communities and the county.
“Suzette was an easy hire to fill this positon,” Anderson said, who as county Extension director had the primary responsibility for economic development programming prior to Barta’s hiring.
“One of our great joys is working with local small business operators and non-profits,” Barta added. “A number of times I have been told ‘what we need is this kind of help,’ which we then provide, only to be thanked and then asked ‘what do we owe you?’ The answer often is nothing. To date, we have been able to offer these key services thanks to Payne County voters’ support of a sales tax, a portion of which comes to the county office and is renewed every five years.”
The 3/8 cent sales tax has collected more than $61 million total for Payne County since 1995. Beyond that, Anderson and his Payne County Extension colleagues have been instrumental in providing educational programs and answering voter questions about other sales tax initiatives, such as a 1/16 cent sales tax to support rural fire department services during a period of severe drought. In all, the Extension office has played a role in $97.9 million sales tax dollars for Payne County use since 1995.
Anderson has successfully secured more than $4 million in additional funding for Payne County Extension programs during his tenure, including Future of Rural Oklahoma grants, Beef Industry Council grants and the Stillwater Creek Water Quality Grant. He has also secured or was the catalyst in establishing $3,500 in annual scholarship money for Payne County youth involved in agriculture.
“Thanks to $5,500 in Central Rural Electric Cooperative Grants since 1995, we have funded various 4-H youth development activities, including ‘Farm Safety Day’ and ‘Kids, Kows and More,’” Anderson said. “We secured a $5,000 Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry grant to train school maintenance workers in horticulture management of their grounds and facilities.”
For horticulture educator Reed, one of Anderson’s strongest gifts is his ability to juggle all roles adeptly, whether it be fulfilling his responsibilities as an agricultural educator, working as county Extension director to secure long-term funding for the office or “delicately working” with personnel, cooperating partners and 4-H parents to generate a spirit of teamwork and ensure the Payne County Extension Office is doing all it can to help residents and youth improve their quality of life.
“I believe I can speak for everyone in our office when I say we feel very fortunate to be working under his leadership,” Reed said. “Even though I had been a DASNR employee for many years prior to moving into my current role, the learning curve was still significant. Nathan helped me through the process immensely, knowing when to advise me and just as importantly, when not to advise me.”
Another leadership role in which Anderson takes special pride is his professional affiliation with the Oklahoma Association of Extension Agricultural Agents. In 2007, longtime Northeast District Extension area livestock special Kent Barnes approached Anderson about becoming an officer with the organization, leading to a 4-year term as first vice president, then president-elect, president and past president. The system is designed to ensure OAEAA is always able to call upon experienced leadership.
“While serving as an officer, our association bid and won the nomination to host the 2010 national meeting,” Anderson said. “We hosted a very successful meeting that brought great respect (and recognition) to OAEAA, DASNR, OSU and Oklahoma.”
Anderson feels honored to be named a Distinguished Educator Award recipient, adding that his professional accomplishments would not have been possible without the patience, support, love and understanding of his wife Leslie and sons Drew and Dillon.
“I appreciate DASNR administration recognizes the dedication, devotion and commitment Extension educators and our families invest in fulfilling the land-grant service mission,” he said.
DASNR News and Media Relations
Agricultural Communications Services
132 Agriculture North
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74078