E.T. York, founder of IFAS, dies

April 15, 2011

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — E.T. York of Gainesville passed away on Friday, April 15, 2011. He was chancellor emeritus of the State University System and former University of Florida vice president for agriculture and natural resources, executive vice president, and interim president. A native of Mentone, Ala., he was 88.

During his tenure at UF, York created the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, or IFAS, to facilitate closer coordination of the agricultural, teaching, research, and extension functions. Under IFAS, York mandated a thorough evaluation of the teaching program with a consolidation of numerous courses and curricula, expansion of the graduate program, resulting in an increase in teaching productivity of more than 50 percent in four years, and an enrollment increase of more than 135 percent.

He encouraged a closer coordination of research activities to ensure closer interdepartmental cooperation as well as changes in extension organization and programming, leading to a greater efficiency of operations and the expansion of extension education programs. He built IFAS into a leader among states and nations, an organization replicated many times throughout the U.S. and the world.

He also provided leadership to the development of the Office for International Programs and the Center for Tropical Agriculture to coordinate the development and administration of the University’s agricultural technical assistance programs with developing nations, from Latin America to South Vietnam.

“E.T. embodied the ideas of service, loyalty and generosity. He built the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences from the ground up, and he stepped up to serve the university and the state of Florida whenever and wherever he was needed,” said UF President Bernie Machen. “He was an absolute giant of a man in every sense, and we will all miss him terribly.”

Jack Payne, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said, “Dr. York created and established an organization that is the epitome of the land grant university philosophy. I am deeply honored to serve as senior vice president of that organization and hope to carry on the distinguished legacy of Dr. York.”

While at UF, York focused on the role the university plays in supporting and enhancing the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry. Through IFAS, he established the DARE program (Developing Agricultural Resources Effectively) as a strategic planning and action program intended to identify problems and potentials in agriculture and help the industry realize these potentials. The DARE program, through IFAS, initially had the goal of doubling Florida’s annual agricultural income by 1975.

Significantly, that goal was reached two to three years ahead of schedule as Florida’s agricultural economy began to grow very rapidly. Through DARE, York had a profound effect on the economic life of Florida. With the DARE program, he focused major attention on the importance of agriculture and the role UF plays as the development arm of Florida agriculture.

From 1935 to 1965, the 30-year period before IFAS was created and the DARE program launched, Florida agriculture’s annual income increased about $850 million. In the 30 years following the initiation of IFAS and DARE, that income increased almost $5 billion, or six times as much as in the earlier period. Numerous factors contributed to these gains, but many people give major credit to IFAS and the DARE program for stimulating and helping make significant progress possible.

York also realized that for IFAS to be most effective, its organization could not rely fully on public funding, that private funds must also be generated to support needed programs. Therefore, he set up another program, called SHARE (Special Help for Agricultural Research and Education) and called upon farmers, ranchers, growers and agriculturally related organizations to contribute funds. The SHARE program was established in 1968 and according to UF Foundation data, to date, has raised more than $260 million to support IFAS programs, contributing significantly to the effectiveness of the University of Florida’s agricultural efforts.

York also played a primary role in the formation of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. He coordinated efforts to secure the initial funds for the college and chaired committees for developing basic plans and securing the first dean for the College.

York’s abilities were recognized the world over. He completed world hunger missions under four U.S. presidents, including a three-year appointment by President Jimmy Carter to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, or BIFAD, to which he was reappointed by President Ronald Reagan and was asked to chair the board. He was also appointed by Presidents Carter and Reagan to lead several presidential missions on agricultural development to such areas as Central America and the Caribbean, Egypt and West Africa. The recommendations of these presidential missions have resulted in major improvements in food production in Third World countries, and the work has been widely acclaimed.

His involvement in improving food production in developing countries was a major factor in helping improve Third World agricultural systems. He was cited by the U.S. Agency for International Development, “for distinguished leadership and dedicated service in the cause of famine prevention and freedom from hunger.”

The National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges recognized York’s “outstanding and dedicated service …” along with his “tireless commitment to strive for a better life for the people of developing nations” and for his “inspired leadership in mobilizing the resources of our universities in the ongoing struggle against poverty and hunger throughout the world.” He held membership on or participated in more than 100 state, regional, national and international panels, boards, and committees; he received numerous awards and special recognition for his service, including outstanding performance ratings as administrator of the Federal Extension Service, and a citation for meritorious service by Rotary Foundation of Rotary International.

York was elected a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, and the Crop Science Society of Florida. He has received the Freedoms Foundation George Washington Honor Medal and Honor Certificate; the National 4-H Alumni Award; the National Gamma Sigma Delta Honor Society of Agriculture award for distinguished service, and special citations from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. The recipient of distinguished service awards from the Association for International Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as the American Farm Bureau, York authored more than 100 papers and books. He was awarded the Daughters of the American Revolution Medal of Honor and named International Scientist of the Year by the International Biographical Centre, Cambridge, England. York held Doctor of Science honorary degrees from the University of Florida, Auburn University, The Ohio State University, and North Carolina State University.

His devotion to community service has also had an impact on Gainesville and Alachua County. For example, in 1972, he chaired the United Way Voluntary Giving Program and scored the largest local increase in United Way support ever to be recorded in Alachua County at that time. He was also the driving force behind the establishment and organization of the Alachua County Volunteer Center. York led efforts to build the $4 million Hospice hospital and headquarters building, which bears his name. Several awards recognizing voluntary service to the local community have been established in his name.

York studied agriculture at Auburn University, where he worked to put himself through a B.S. degree program in three years. He served in the U.S. Army as an officer in the field artillery. After World War II, he finished his Master of Science degree at Auburn and received his doctorate from Cornell University. York has served as professor and head of the agronomy department at North Carolina State University, eastern director of the American Potash Institute, director of the Cooperative Extension Service at Auburn and with the Kennedy Administration as the youngest ever administrator of the Federal Extension Service, USDA.

York is survived by his wife of 64 years, Vam York of Gainesville; son, Travis York of Ormond Beach; daughter, Lisa York of Jacksonville; a nephew, Guy York and wife Martha of Gainesville; two grand nephews and a grand niece.

Honoring his request, York’s internment will be a private, family event. A public memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Trinity United Methodist Church, 4000 NW 53rd Ave., Gainesville; Haven Hospice, 4200 NW 90th Blvd., Gainesville, or the charity of your choice.