Thursday, Apr. 22, 2010
If one were to pass Phyllis Smith on campus at Utah State University, he or she probably wouldn’t notice anything unusual about her. She appears to be just another student pursuing an ornamental horticulture degree in USU’s College of Agriculture. But if one were to take a minute to get to know her, they might find out that she has an interesting story to tell. Smith will graduate in May from the College of Ag exactly 100 years after her prominent grandfather, Robert Haslam Stewart, did in 1910.
“I didn’t realize that I would be graduating exactly 100 years after my grandfather did until he was inducted into the College of Ag’s Hall of Honor in 2008,” she said with a smile. “It was then that I thought to myself, ‘this is pretty cool.’”
Although Smith interacted with her grandfather regularly during his life, she didn’t connect him with USU until she received a book that he published about his life and experiences.
“When I started to really pursue my degree here, I remember thinking, ‘this is where Grandpa went,’” she said. “I sure hope he is proud of me.”
Smith is finally seeing the light at the end of a very long tunnel. The road to graduation is a process that has taken some 30-plus years for her to complete. After growing up in a small southern Idaho town and graduating high school, she pursued a degree from the College of Southern Idaho, eventually finishing with associate of arts degree. While attending school, though, she struggled in deciding what to do for a career. Then, as she began to raise a family, the thought of continuing her education faded away. After moving many times throughout Utah, Smith ended up in Cache Valley when her husband accepted a job at USU. Once her children were grown, she began auditing classes on campus and enrolled in an annuals and perennials class, which immediately sparked her interest.
“The rest is history from there,” she exclaimed. “It’s funny that I started my education pursuing a fine arts degree and ended up doing this. This is the last thing in the world that I would have expected to have done with my life 30 years ago. I grew up on a farm and I swore that I would have nothing to do with farming or agriculture, but look at me now.”
Robert Haslam Stewart had a large impact on Utah agriculture and the outdoors throughout his life. After graduating from the College of Ag in 1910, he became Utah’s first county agriculture Extension agent, working in Carbon, Emery and later, Box Elder, counties. He was frequently involved in promoting community events and beautification projects, often in and around Brigham City. Throughout his agricultural career, Stewart encouraged use of superior livestock breeds, grains and fruit varieties and emphasized weed control and soil conservation.
Stewart received multiple awards and recognitions throughout his life. In 1944, he was honored by the Cache National Forest Service for his outstanding service in mountain preservation, and in 1969 he was awarded an honorary lifetime membership in the USU Alumni Association. In 1996, as a posthumous honor, the United States Board of Geographic Names deemed Box Elder Peak, the highest point in the Wellsville Mountains, Bob Stewart Peak.
Although Smith is unsure what she will do with her ornamental horticulture degree once she graduates, she is proud to graduate from the same college that her prolific grandfather did, even 100 years later.
“I am thinking of maybe doing some graduate work,” she said. “No matter what I end up doing, this experience has been really cool.”
Writer/Contact: Skyler Di Stefano, (435) 797-7406