The most prestigious FNGLA award had never been given to someone whose entire career had been in academia—until June.
But to Professor Tom Yeager of the UF/IFAS Department of Environmental Horticulture, receiving FNGLA's Wendell Butler Award for service at the Association's Annual Convention in June was not the highest honor FNGLA had bestowed upon him. It was being embraced as one of you.
“Thank you for trusting me and thank you for allowing me to be a part of the FNGLA family,” he said in accepting the award.
“The Candyman” was clearly delighted to be among you, his family, that day at the annual convention. Known for handing out candy at his presentations to keep his audiences attentive and motivated, he came prepared.
As he walked toward the podium, he handed out chocolate coins covered in gold foil with the words “Thank you FNGLA” printed on them. Once he got the microphone, he left the stage with it and stalked through the audience as he spoke, handing out coins along the way.
I can’t give out honors like the Wendell Butler Award, so in observance of Yeager’s retirement next month after 40 years. His peers have granted him emeritus status, though, and I hereby nominate him to receive the title of Honorary Dean – of the Knowledge College.
After all, he has helped run the FNGLA education initiative, the Knowledge College, held each year at The Landscape Show, for decades. Yeager starts building the annual program months before the annual industry trade show through meetings with you to discuss industry needs. He helps develop a syllabus, finds speakers and builds a schedule. He is a regular on the show floor, monitoring, moderating and often presenting at the educational programs that result.
Linda Adams says Yeager has been the bridge between academia and industry, bringing evidence-based information to producers. “We look to Tom Yeager for answers,” Ben Bolusky said in praising him from the podium at the convention.
The bridge is two-way. Yeager’s close connection to FNGLA has equipped him with an acute understanding of industry needs that he brought back to the university.
For example, Yeager has been a member of the FNGLA's Frontrunners Chapter since 1981, serving in many capacities.
Yeager has also been a bridge to the past. He was closely tied to what was then FNGA and even knew the very first FNGA president. Yeager was also there for some of the association’s most challenging times, and even claims to have attended a meeting where association leaders passed the hat to collect money to keep the office open.
Yeager instructed generations of future horticulturalists. His teaching included on-campus Frontrunner chapter meetings where students could meet with FNGLA professionals and share with them the work they’d done to prepare for the Poinsettia Sale.
Yeager equipped his students with competency, but nominator Billy Butterfield wrote that Yeager also offered an example of what it means to spend a career giving to others.
“There are many who have given to our industry, but not many who have given as much to our industry as Dr. Tom Yeager,” Butterfield wrote.
He gave a great deal to UF/IFAS as well, in teaching, research and Extension. And, I don’t expect the giving—to us or to you—will stop because he’s retired.
Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).