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Outstanding Alumni Winner - 2006

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Blair Wolfley

Blair Wolfley

Blair Wolfley's motto is 'Education: anytime, anywhere, anyway.'

That's evident when visiting with University of Wyoming alumni and hearing from colleagues about the College of Agriculture Outstanding Alumnus for 2006.

Wolfley rose in the ranks at Washington State University (WSU), where he started as a research associate in 1976 and now manages WSU Extension's southwest district, which covers 11 counties.

The Star Valley, Wyoming, native credits much of his success to his education at UW, where he graduated in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in agricultural business and in 1975 with a master's in agricultural economics. He was on a full-ride wrestling scholarship, and working as a custodian in the athletics department and later as a research assistant covered other college expenses.

"The experience I got with the wrestling, the work, my education, and the interaction with students, professors, and staff was as good as I could have found anywhere. UW is a great place for people to get started," says the Vancouver, Washington, resident.

Wolfley says he developed a strong work ethic growing up on the family ranch in Star Valley, and that continued at UW as he learned how to balance academic studies with wrestling and job duties.

 "Going to school was much easier once I was through with wrestling, but there was also an emptiness. We had a great group of guys on that team."

Wolfley walked down memory lane as he recalled Wyoming's wrestling program back then.

"We had a coach who had a lot of connections, and we were wrestling at Iowa, Nebraska, the Oklahoma schools, in Oregon and Washington, as well as all the schools in the original Western Athletic Conference. We didn't win at a lot of those places, but we had a great time," he reflects.

He also talked about how a number of faculty members in the College of Agriculture provided guidance that stuck with him throughout his career.

Wolfley now shares that knowledge with approximately 100 people he oversees in his extension district. He's also the manager of WSU's Vancouver Research and Extension Unit.

"The most important aspect of my job is to make resources available so the faculty members, extension coordinators, and support staff can do great programming," Wolfley says. "My job puts me in a position to promote faculty and staff members who do great work."

Arlen Davison of Puyallup, Washington, professor emeritus for WSU's College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, nominated Wolfley for the award. Davison earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the UW College of Agriculture in the mid-1950s.

"From leadership development efforts with 4-H to teaching human development classes for credit at WSU Vancouver, Blair has helped people grow in their abilities to see themselves as capable of solving problems and giving service and leadership where and when opportunity calls," Davison writes.

Davison describes how Wolfley helped farmers develop budgets for small-scale production when he worked on a county level with WSU Extension, how he educated others about the importance of agricultural land preservation and maintaining open spaces, and how he taught hundreds of classes to help 4-H leaders and members improve leadership and life skills, solve problems, and build self-esteem.

"He is truly an outstanding member of the WSU faculty," Davison writes.

Through WSU Extension, Wolfley provides the statewide leadership for the federal Extension Indian Reservation Program (EIRP).

"He fosters diversity and the spirit of inclusion," states Linda Kirk Fox, dean and director of WSU Extension in Pullman.

Joseph Hiller, assistant dean for the University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in Tucson, states he gained a deep respect for Wolfley while working with him on a regional level the past 10 years.

"The cornerstone of my comments on Blair's excellent record are grounded in his work in support of EIRP. He became deeply engaged and vested in EIRP over the years: convinced, as many of us are, that the program is not only 'good' but also truly vital for genuinely underserved audiences," states Hiller, who graduated from the UW College of Agriculture in 1984 with a master's degree in range management.

Hiller believes EIRP is not a popular program within the federal Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service and many state land-grant institutions.

"Its very existence requires one to accept that conventional county-based extension programs are not meeting needs of American Indians living on Indian reservations. That's hard to accept for most high-level administrators," Hiller states.

He emphasizes 'leadership and courage' is needed to help meet the needs of EIRP clients while at the same time requiring 'considerable finesse' to not aggravate the extension system.

"Blair understands the juxtaposition very well and has succeeded in both arenas. He is clearly a man who has compassion for others along with a passion for lifelong learning," Hiller states.

Steve Harbell, director of WSU Pacific County Extension in South Bend, writes, "Blair has provided significant support for agricultural programs to improve production in a variety of crop and animal systems and to increase public awareness of the value of agriculture in the region. His extensive work with youth has given them new skills and knowledge that has enriched their lives."

Wolfley received a 30-year certificate from WSU earlier this year. He was a research associate for WSU's Water Research Center in Pullman from 1976 to 1978 before accepting a position as extension project associate in 1978 in Puyallup. He has received five promotions since.

"I am thankful I was able to spend a career working in a service profession and to continually learn and help people solve problems. I had a lot of satisfaction watching 4-H kids grow and learn to be responsible citizens," Wolfley says.

In his spare time, he enjoys woodworking and regrets there is insufficient time for an 'adequate dose of fly-fishing.'

Wolfley's wife, Kathy, a Laramie native, is a literary specialist for Fort Vancouver High School in Vancouver.

The couple have five children, who all have completed bachelor degrees.

James is a software manager for a fiber optics company in Utah; Jill is a homemaker in Vancouver; Daniel is a customer service trainer for US Bank in Gresham, Oregon; Megan is a human resources specialist for US Bank near Portland, Oregon; and Kelly recently earned a horticulture degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho.

The couple have 12 grandchildren.

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