WILMINGTON — Scores of Wilmington College’s agriculture alumni returned to campus March 25 to congratulate longtime faculty member Dr. Donald G. Chafin on his recent retirement and see their former professor present what was billed as “The Last Lecture.”
Chafin, professor of agriculture economics, retired in December after serving 40 years on the faculty. An overflow crowd of mostly alumni and their families packed the Linda Cheng Karpas Lecture Hall in the College’s new Center for the Sciences and Agriculture.
As Chafin’s presentation began, Dr. Monte Anderson, agriculture program director, pulled out a pair of vintage overhead projectors, a mainstay of Chafin’s classroom even when more modern technology was readily available. “I’m still horse and buggy,” Chafin joked.
He then invited the crowd to join him in another trademark activity, a moment of meditation designed to clear the mind and center one’s thoughts. “Breathe that nurturing power of Mother Earth and listen to the thundering silence of the universe,” Chafin said. “I love you. Thank you for sharing this life with me.”
He said that, while he was honored with the great turnout in recognition of his retirement, the event also shines a spotlight on the agriculture program’s success over the last 40 years and prior to his arrival.
“We’re celebrating your success, the success of the ag program and the success the 1,100 agriculture alumni (since the program’s inception in 1948),” he said.
Chafin’s “Last Lecture” was less a lesson on the Board of Trade or crop yield ratios, but rather reminiscences of the past 40 years, which included the growth from 36 agriculture students in 1976 when he arrived to nearly 300 this past fall, as well as changes in the industry and the phenomenal increases in agricultural land value, technology and production.
“Ag has changed and we (the Ag. Dept.) changed too, but we’ve always done hands-on,” Chafin said, noting that students’ opportunities for learning-by-doing have always been the program’s differentiating factor and point of pride.
“By being hands-on, real-world and flexible, our program has evolved in order the prepare our students well for the new challenges out there.”
That appeared evident as alumni introduced themselves and shared their successful lives since graduation. Their experiences range from farming and applied agronomy to careers in the financial, business, sales, marketing, scientific and educational components of the agriculture industry.
One scientist at Procter & Gamble mentioned how impressed the company was with the education and hands-on experience she brought as a recent graduate from WC.
“My supervisor said, ‘I need to hire more people like you — you know how to do things,’” she said, noting that other WC agriculture and science grads soon followed her to P&G.
Other comments from alumni included: “Wilmington taught us to think, learn and communicate.” “I have lots of good memories of Don’s trips to Mexico.” “I would not be where I am today if not for Don. You taught us things I use everyday.” “You taught us how to love people and challenge the norm.”
Another said he is active in voluntary service due to the experiences he had on Chafin’s Habitat for Humanity trips to the impoverished, yet culturally rich, community of Coahoma, Miss.
President Jim Reynolds compared Chafin to an especially colorful relative of his, Uncle Ernie. “In the 10 years I’ve been here, I have not met another person like Don — and I mean that in a good way!” he said.
“You’ve all been successful alumni. Hopefully we’ve contributed to your success.” Chafin said.
“There’s a magic here at Wilmington College that I cannot put a finger on, yet somehow it comes together and pays off for these students,” he added. “Students — that’s the number one thing here! Their success and the level of positions they have achieved have been absolutely mind-boggling. The magic of Wilmington College has prepared them to achieve at these levels of success.”