Ag agent prepares for new position
Official duties start with fair
Back in the 1970s, Leon Stites knew he wanted to work as an agriculture agent.
Now, about 30 years later, he's fulfilling his dream.
Stites will begin work on Monday as Leavenworth County Extension Service's agriculture and natural resources agent. He replaces Sy Nyhart, who retired three months ago after 16 years on the job.
"This is actually what I thought I was going to do when I was going to college," said Stites, 52.
The Linn County native attended Kansas State University after he was discharged from the military during the Vietnam War. After earning a bachelor's degree in crop protection, he worked for the extension service on the KSU campus as a pest management assistant.
At the encouragement of co-workers, Stites began work on his master's degree in agronomy.
When he graduated, he needed a job in the area because his wife, Martha, was still working on a degree.
"I needed to get a job," Stites remembers. "I interviewed for a sales job."
He landed one with Sandoz Agri Chemicals in Manhattan. In 1987, the company moved the couple to Kansas City, Mo. During his 15 years with the company, Stites moved up the ranks to become a district sales manager in charge of a six-state region.
And he's been garden center manager during the past three years for Sutherland Lumber company.
When Stites heard from his brother, Dean, who is an extension ag agent in Crawford County, about the Leavenworth County job, he was more than interested.
"It just seemed like a perfect fit," Leon Stites said. "I've been out of agriculture for awhile, and I'm anxious to get back to that. I enjoy working with people and teaching people, and I think that's a big part of extension -- education and teaching."
Stites will begin work Monday -- but he'll be in training with other agents until the week of Aug. 11, when the Leavenworth County Fair kicks off.
Denise Sullivan, county extension agent for family and consumer sciences, who is serving as acting county director, said she believes Stites will work well with county residents and extension staff members. She was impressed with his backgrounds in agronomy and horticulture.
"We really felt a commitment to teamwork from him," said Sullivan, who sat in on interviews for the director's job. "I think he's going to fit in very well. He enjoys youth work, as well."
Leavenworth County, which is transforming from rural to suburban, will present some challenges for all who live here, Stites said. And he's eager to meet those.
"I think, with the 10- to 15- to 20-acre residences, there could be some wildlife management that could be good for the area," he said. "I also would like to see people getting along with their agricultural neighbors. I think that depends on them understanding what their agricultural neighbors are faced with and what the agricultural neighbor is trying to do to earn their living."