Footprints in the sand

One of the characteristics of so many Michigan State University Extension professionals is that they never seem willing to stop helping to make things better, helping people improve their lives. A great example of that is Gale Arent, who retired as associate director of MSUE in 2002. Immediately upon retiring, Gale was tapped by Jeff Armstrong, who was dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) to lead relationship-building with legislators and state administrative officials on behalf of MSUE and the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station (now MSU AgBioResearch). Gale helped us to establish a presence with decision makers at a time when our funding was being tossed around like a political football. Although no one expected him to accomplish a “time out,” Gale was successful in helping us overcome repeated “penalties” (executive proposals for significant budget cuts in our funding).

Having established a well-tuned process for engaging with decision makers, Gale once again retired from MSU in 2005 … and immediately went to work for the Michigan greenhouse industry. He helped them create a new organization, the Michigan Floriculture Growers Council (MFGC), and served as its executive director. As he had with CANR, Gale helped the MFGC build relationships with decision makers at the state and federal levels, educating those officials on the opportunities and challenges the industry faces, and seeking assistance to help the industry grow. The floriculture industry represents the fourth largest sector in Michigan’s burgeoning agriculture economy, and this kind of strategic leadership has helped the industry to remain strong in challenging times.

Gale’s connection with the floriculture industry goes back many years to his time as an Extension agent and then county Extension director in Kalamazoo County. He helped those in the industry build cooperatives for marketing their products and helped them learn about and adopt production practices to help improve the bottom line.

Gale is retiring once again, this time from his role as executive director of the MFGC. When I think of the record of contributions Gale has made throughout his career in Michigan, I am reminded of the posters, greeting cards and songs that draw the comparison between footprints found on a beach and the impacts a person leaves behind from a life’s work. Gale’s footprints can be found extensively across Michigan, and even though sand tends to erode from wind and rain, the impacts of his work are lasting, having changed the face of Michigan agriculture forever.

So now Gale and his wife, Fame, are moving to Florida, ostensibly for retirement. Gale stopped in the office to say farewell a few weeks ago, and I didn’t hear him say anything about slowing down. So I won’t be surprised to hear stories from our colleagues in Florida about this guy who showed up from Michigan in 2012 and immediately began to have an impact on agriculture and communities in Florida. We wish Fame and Gale well and look forward to hearing about more footprints in a warmer climate.

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