20th Century UVM Dairyman Memorialized
- By Cheryl Dorschner
This year’s University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Robert O. Sinclair Cup for career achievement was presented posthumously to Kenneth Stewart Gibson, a 20th Century UVM Extension agent dairyman and animal science teacher. The award was one of seven presented at the College’s annual alumni and friends dinner May 10 at the Davis Center on campus. Other recipients were Larry K. Forcier Outstanding Senior Hillary Laggis '14; New Achievers Shaun Gilpin ’09 and James Henley '04; and Outstanding Alumni Louise Calderwood, Linda Kohn and James Anderson.
Gibson was lauded for his 40+ years at UVM as an agriculture program leader and interim director of Extension and credited with developing a course that led to the university’s well known “2+2 Program” partnership with Vermont Technical College (VTC).
Gibson, known as “Stew,” to friends and colleagues, graduated from the University of Vermont College of Agriculture in 1951 with a bachelor of science in agronomy and earned his master of science in dairy cattle nutrition at the University of New Hampshire in 1953. Marion Webster also graduated from UNH that year – they were married after graduation. In 1955, after two years of service in the U.S. Army, Gibson began a career his lifelong career at UVM.
He was a UVM Cooperative Extension agent dairyman from 1956-1960 covering Chittenden County, from 1963-1967 in Washington County and 1967-1997 covering the whole state.
The couple farmed in Waterbury from 1960-1968, sold the farm and moved to Waterbury Center where they raised their family.
Meanwhile, he also had a 30-year teaching career in UVM animal science, mainly leading courses in dairy herd management and feeds.
And he managed the UVM Farms for 12 years.
“During that time he developed the herd's genetics. He had the National Grand Champion Guernsey; and several cows nominated to be All-Americans. He had an outstanding eye for dairy cattle, judging at dairy shows all over the northeast – giving generously of his time on weekends, nights and vacation for the benefit of 4-H youth and adults. Stew saw these youth as the face of agriculture to come,” wrote several of his nominators for the Sinclair Cup.
Over the years he served many organizations including the UVM dairy herd, Champlain Valley Exposition, 4-H, Cabot Creamery Co-op, Vermont dairyman’s and Industry Association, Vermont Dairy Herd Improvement Association and others.
In 1976 Gibson married Joan Meyers and they moved to Waterbury where he lived until 2012. During this period, he served his community, church and volunteer ambulance service by holding several elected and appointed positions. He retired in 1997 “after his wife’s battle with cancer. He volunteered in the local hospital oncology unit and with hospice.
The Gibson Legacy
Gibson was honored with many awards. Among them: the John C. Finley Award presented by the Vermont Dairy Association and George D. Aiken Vermont Agriculturist of the Year. He was inducted into the Vermont Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2004.
As one of the original Vermont Housing and Conservation Board members, with his guidance over 100,000 acres in Vermont have been set aside for agriculture and protected from development.
He continued to meet farmers and make farm visits with his son, Willie Gibson ’85 whose degree in animal science led him to become a UVM Extension sustainable agriculture specialist for 15 years – for a time covering the very same territory in Washington County that his father had.
Stew Gibson died in 2013 at age 85 in Woodsville, NH.
A Listener and a Communicator
“Stew was known as the “farmer’s friend” and communicated as well with the top producers as with the average farmer trying to make a living,” wrote one of his nominators for the Sinclair Cup award. “He was able to put complex concepts into understandable terms and effectively carried out the Land-Grant mission of getting university research out into the countryside.”
Gibson took on additional leadership roles including curriculum chair and the first Extension faculty organization president. Before retiring, Gibson started the course “Alternative Farm Management Systems,” that ultimately led to the current UVM/VTC 2+2 final semester's program at the Miner Institute in Chazy, New York.
Repeatedly people have mentioned Stew Gibson’s gift for communicating, as UVM Extension Dean Doug Lantagne put it, “with deep sincerity, profound understanding and endearing humor. He felt that listening was a critical part of communicating, and he tried hard to get other people to understand that.”
Former CALS Dean and UVM Interim President John Bramley remarked in a letter supporting Gibson for the award: “I learned more from Stew Gibson in terms of his empathy and respect for people than from anybody else in my professional life and I tried hard (but unsuccessfully) to emulate him.”
His 1997 retirement citation commended him for setting “the very highest standard … through sound advice, excellent command, practical experience of the subject matter, honesty, integrity and great communication skills.”
In presenting the award, Lantagne said that anyone could experience Stew Gibson’s legacy “through the Vermont farm landscape or in the lives of his children and from the students and farmers he taught, mentored and cared deeply about.”
Stew Gibson’s daughter Mary Truax of Waterbury and son Willie Gibson of Ryegate accepted the 2014 Sinclair Cup on his behalf.
Echoing others’ sentiments about Stew Gibson's uncanny ability to fully listen and talk to others, “he really didn’t ever have an audience in front of him, he was always with ‘you,’ said Willie, now a dairy and livestock consultant with Dairy Consulting Group LLC and for previously with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont. “Stew Gibson brought a culture of farming, faith, family and community with him wherever he went.”