UT Re-Imagines Ag Day 2021

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Celebration To Be Held Virtually

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Chalk another event change up to COVID-19.

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has cancelled its in-person celebration of all things “ag,” not to mention family and consumer sciences; forestry, wildlife and fisheries; veterinary medicine and more. Ag Day is usually held in the autumn immediately before a home UT Knoxville football game and can draw crowds between 500 to 1,000 people. This year, organizers say the celebration will be held online.

“It’s with considerable regret that we make this decision,” says Linda C. Martin, interim senior vice president and senior vice chancellor for UTIA. “Ag Day is a fun, festive and educational event during which faculty, staff, students and members of the community gather to enjoy fellowship and share our support for the Institute of Agriculture and the University of Tennessee. However, because this is an indoor event and because of increasing concern regarding the delta variant of COVID-19, the decision has been made to forego this year’s in-person celebration.”

A virtual celebration will be held October 14, at 2 p.m. EDT, to honor the spirit of Ag Day and to celebrate UTIA’s Meritorious and Horizon Award winners and the Tennessee Farmer of the Year.

In 2021 UTIA is presenting the Meritorious Service Award to three people: John and Ann Tickle and Dan Wheeler.

John and Ann Tickle have supported their alma mater UT more than 50 years. This includes generous gifts for the Tickle Athletic Development Suite, Tickle College of Engineering and the John and Ann Tickle Small Animal Hospital renovation and expansion at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine. Mr. Tickle is president of the Strongwell Corporation in Bristol and a former member of the UT Board of Trustees. “I have rich memories of the University of Tennessee,” Mr. Tickle says. Of the Meritorious Service Award, he adds, “Both of us are surprised, pleased and honored.”

Former Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Dan Wheeler is also being honored with the UTIA Meritorious Service Award. He grew up on a farm in Cumberland County and graduated from UT in 1964. He then embarked on a 30-year career with the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, was named Commissioner of Agriculture under Governor Don Sundquist, and then concluded his career as leader of UTIA’s Center for Profitable Agriculture. He has also given his time to the UTIA Development Board.

“I was surprised and pleased to be honored in such a way, especially when I think about the people who received this recognition in the past,” says Wheeler. “To be in the same company is quite an honor, and I’m very humbled to be chosen to receive this year’s Meritorious Service Award.” 

Elizabeth Johnson Million, DVM, is the winner of the Institute’s Horizon Award. She grew up in Cocke County where she was an active 4-H’er. Million graduated from the Herbert College of Agriculture with a degree in animal science in 2012, and then, in her words, “crossed the street” to the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, where she graduated in 2016.

Today she works with both animals and people in a veterinary hospice and also serves as the assistant director of outreach and engagement for the non-profit International Council for Veterinary Assessment in Atlanta. This organization creates and administers the national licensing exams for veterinarians in the U.S. and Canada and works to ensure veterinary assessments that help protect human and animal health and welfare.

“This is a high-stakes exam,” Million says. “There’s a lot riding on this, so there’s a lot of editing and revisions. That’s where I get to use my degree. I’m certainly a ‘Vol for Life.’ I’m very passionate about being a volunteer. I live by the philosophy that Vol is a verb.”

The virtual Ag Day will also include recognition of the Tennessee Farmer of the Year, Jay Yeargin of Weakley County. Combined with his father’s farm, the Yeargins have a 4,000- acre operation just outside Greenfield. They produce corn, soybean, wheat and beef cattle. Yeargin is a 2004 graduate of UT Martin, and he is heavily involved with UT Extension and AgResearch. He even hosts students from Governor’s School and allows classes to be taught on his farm.  

“I love seeing something through start to finish: starting with a seed and watching it grow throughout the year. You’ve got to put some faith in God that you’ll get rain, and everything will work out,” Yeargin says. “We’re thankful for this honor and proud to work with the University of Tennessee.” 

For more information about the virtual Ag Day celebration contact Robin Haefs at rhaefs@tennessee.edu or 865-974-1928.

Discussions are ongoing about Ag Day’s return during the fall of 2022. Planners are working to re-imagine the event, which has been a tradition on campus since 1982.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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