Family legacy in USU’s Ag college spans 100 years

When other students pass Phyllis Smith on campus at Utah State University, most probably don’t notice anything unusual about her. She appears to be just another student pursuing an Ornamental Horticulture degree in USU’s College of Agriculture. But those who get to know her find she has an interesting story to tell. A long story. Smith will be graduating from the College of Ag in May, exactly 100 years after her grandfather, Joseph Haslam Stewart, did in 1910. “I didn’t realize that I would be graduating exactly 100 years after my grandfather did until he was inducted into the College of Ag’s Hall of Honor in 2008,” she said with a smile. “It was then that I thought to myself, ‘this is pretty cool.’” After spending the last few years in pursuit of her degree at USU, Smith is finally seeing the light at the end of a very long tunnel. The road to graduation is a process that has taken some 30 plus years for her to complete. After growing up in a small southern Idaho town and graduating high school, she pursued a degree from the College of Southern Idaho, eventually finishing with Associate of Arts degree. While attending school, though, she struggled in deciding what to do for a career. Then as she began to raise a family, the thought of continuing her education faded away. After moving many times throughout Utah, Smith ended up in Cache Valley when her husband accepted a job at USU. Once her kids were grown, she began auditing classes on campus and enrolled in an annuals and perennials class, which immediately sparked her interest. “The rest is history from there,” she exclaimed. “It’s funny that I started my education pursuing a fine arts degree and ended up doing this. This is the last thing in the world that I would have expected to have done with my life 30 years ago. I grew up on a farm and I swore that I would have nothing to do with farming or agriculture, but look at me now.” Although Smith interacted with her grandfather regularly during his life, she didn’t connect him with USU until she received a book that he published about his life and the experiences he had. “When I started to really pursue my degree here, I remember thinking, ‘this is where Grandpa went,’” she said with a chuckle. “I sure hope he is proud of me.” Stewart had a large impact on Utah agriculture during his life. After graduating from the College of Ag in 1910, he became Utah’s first county agriculture Extension agent. He began his work in 1913 in the Carbon and Emery counties, and eventually headed north to lead Extension efforts in Box Elder County. Always involved in the community, he started 4-H clubs early on, which were known then as Boys and Girls Clubs. With the backing of the Farm Bureau leaders, he promoted the county fair in Tremonton and Dairy Days and Peach Days in Brigham City. He also promoted community beautification projects such as the Main Street tree lining in Brigham City. In addition, he also organized rabbit extermination drives and helped establish a dental cooperative so farm families could afford adequate dental care. Throughout his agricultural career, Stewart encouraged use of superior livestock breeds, grains and fruit varieties, and emphasized weed control and soil conservation. Although Smith is unsure what she will do with her Ornamental Horticulture degree once she graduates, she is very proud to graduate from the same college that her grandfather did 100 years ago. “I am thinking of maybe doing some graduate work,” she explained. “No matter what I end up doing, this experience has been really cool.”

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