Leadership program donation targets improving level of living in rural Texas

COLLEGE STATION — Hard work and keen observation that steered a career from a school room in Hutto, Texas through several other nations has led a Texas A&M University alumnus to endow a program for developing rural leaders.

“In any situation, you need to go see what is happening, ask why it happened and then ask what can be done,” said Dr. Frank Sheppard of College Station. “Who knows what can be done if there is motivation?”

Sheppard, who graduated from Texas A&M in 1947 with a degree in agricultural education, has given $100,000 to the Texas Rural Leadership Program, which aims to help Texans “build vibrant communities through creative vision and progressive leadership.”

Dr. Frank Sheppard, right, recently has given $100,000 to the Texas Rural Leadership Program, which aims to help Texans “build vibrant communities through creative vision and progressive leadership.” With Sheppard is Ronnie McDonald, director of the leadership program. (Photo courtesy of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service).

Dr. Frank Sheppard, right, recently has given $100,000 to the Texas Rural Leadership Program, which aims to help Texans “build vibrant communities through creative vision and progressive leadership.” With Sheppard is Ronnie McDonald, director of the leadership program. (Photo courtesy of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service).

The funds will help the program involve county-based Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agents with a wide range of people in their communities to benefit those who live there, according to Ronnie McDonald, director of the leadership program.

“We want to have a deliberate dialogue with the people in these communities,” said McDonald, former Bastrop County judge. “We want to train the agents who will then train people in the communities. That will expand the dialogue to include people from schools with the elected officials and the churches and others so that it is not always the same people at the table.

“We already have pilot projects going in two counties, and we are seeking collaborations to expand the program. This gift will help us achieve that.”

Sheppard is energized by this notion. He recently recalled early experiences in his career, beginning with his first job in the late 1940s as agriculture teacher in the Hutto schools, and how his willingness to work hard and observe others’ situations with an eye for solutions led him to opportunities in other countries.

In 1958, after serving with the U.S. Department of State as a rural development leader in India, Sheppard became leader for what was then Agrilife Extension’s new program — community development. Three East Texas counties were piloting theprogram, and his visits to those counties revealed some key elements for success.

“I was inspired by what I saw. The situation in East Texas then was quite similar to what I had seen in India,” he said.

He believes providing information and a forum for discussion are vital for development.

“You have to have a way for ideas to be generated and circulated so that people become interested in the notion that they’re in a dynamic, active community not a dead one,” he added, pointing to the importance of a community’s news media.  

Sheppard believes AgriLife Extension’s network of agents covering every Texas county is a natural conduit for such initiating progressive leadership. “They are professional people who are in the communities and who deal with the population.

“Look for people who can wake up a community. Who are the people who would benefit economically if the community started changing? Those are your prime prospects to get working on it,” he said. “I’m interested in the level of living. Standard of living is what you would hope to have and level of living is what you actually have. We can do something about the level of living. We want to get the people together and find out what we can do to stir up the levels of living in our communities.”

The rural leadership program’s board president,Lynn White of College Station,said Sheppard’s life experiences are “symbolic of the program’s mission.”

“We strive to follow his example as we teach emerging community leaders and citizens to identify and engage their resources as the basis for building and sustaining community life,” White said. “The funds provided by Dr. Sheppard will be used to recognize best practices in community development and servant leaders from communities that conduct the Texas Rural Leadership Program. His support will be a key sustaining force for future rural communities.”

For more information about theTexas Rural Leadership Program, go to http://trlp.org.

Other gifts to the Texas Rural Leadership Program can be made by contacting Torii Kapavik at the Texas A&M Foundation, 979-862-1247, or by visiting http://givenow.tamu.edu and referencing the “Texas Rural Leadership Program” for the gift fund name.

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