Agency Directors

A Legacy of Leadership

Looking Back at the Directors of Texas Extension

By: Jon Perrott


Seaman Knapp, often referred to as the father of Extension, said: “What a man hears, he may doubt; what he sees, he may possibly doubt; but what he does himself, he cannot doubt.” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, in keeping with Knapp’s vision, is dedicated to removing doubt from the people of Texas through research-based education.

Throughout its proud history, AgriLife Extension has seen many changes and faced many challenges. Whether dealing with the impacts of changing demographics, telling the story of Extension to legislators and communities, budget issues, or evaluating the impact of technological innovations on the people served, AgriLife Extension has met all challenges with enthusiasm and zeal.


The consistency exhibited by AgriLife Extension can be directly attributed to the visionary, servant-based leadership that has been on display for a century. AgriLife Extension has had the unique benefit of being under the direction of committed, visionary leaders from the early days when Clarence Ousley and T. O. Walton were the agency’s first two directors, to more modern times with Daniel Pfannstiel, Zerle Carpenter, Edward Hiler, Chester Fehlis, Edward Smith, and Douglas Steele at the helm. Each man faced challenges unique to the times, yet each has met all obstacles and opportunities with a confidence in the people they’ve worked with and in the people whom they’ve served.

In speaking with Drs. Carpenter, Fehlis, Smith, and Steele, what is apparent is that each man has brought a similar philosophy into the position. Specifically, each has demonstrated a dedication to helping people and a commitment to fulfilling the charter of Extension which is, in the words of Dr. Smith, “helping people help themselves through education.”  That core value permeates the agency and has helped people across the state make improvements to their ways of life through education on topics ranging from infant nutrition to managing the boll weevil.


Moving forward, AgriLife Extension is poised to be at the forefront of helping Texans to continue living productive, rewarding lives in the 21st Century and beyond. The legacy of leadership that has grounded AgriLife Extension firmly in our communities has culminated in an agency that is counted on by the people of our great state to provide critical information on a variety of subjects, to lend a helping hand during times of need, and to give a warm hug to a Clover Kid for a job well done.

The future for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, no matter the challenges the next century of cooperative extension brings, is very bright. Perhaps Dr. Steele sums it up best when he says: “When done correctly, Extension can offer a high-tech/high-touch experience that is rivaled by no other agency.  Because of our network of offices, highly educated faculty/staff, connection to the best research in the country and ability to create partnerships, Extension is well positioned to have sustained success in the future.”


14 in ’14 is a monthly series celebrating the centennial anniversary of the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, the legislation which created the national cooperative extension system. Each month we will feature people, programs, history, and ideas highlighting some of the unique accomplishments of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

14 in ’14 is a joint effort between Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Organizational Development Unit and graduate students from the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications at Texas A&M University, under the direction of Scott Cummings, Jeff Ripley, and Kevin Andrews.

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