Four significant figures in the history of agricultural education at Connors State College were inducted into the 2017 Agricultural Hall of Fame class on Saturday, December 2, 2017 in the A.D. Stone Student Union on the Warner main campus of the college. These inductees include: Gary Harding, Robert A. “Bob” Hodges, Dr. Gary W. Updyke, and Fred Williams.
The events began early Saturday with a reception held in the McPeak Agricultural Hall of Fame followed by “Braggin’ Rights and Banners”, a livestock judging contest for the young and old held in the Fred Williams Indoor Arena, and a barbecue luncheon and induction ceremony immediately after.
Jerry McPeak, 2016 Connors Agriculture Hall of Fame Inductee, served as Master of Ceremonies for the day’s events, followed by a welcoming message from Dr. Ron Ramming, President of Connors State College.
“This is a monumental day at Connors State College. These men have molded the program to what it is today and it is clear to see their influence in every aspect of the agricultural department,” said Ramming. “As a product of the college I can speak for the students, faculty, and staff, and all of us involved and say that we are thankful for these men. It’s a big day for them, but it’s also a big day for the college. We’re proud of everything they’ve accomplished.”
As the ceremony progressed each inductee, or their respective family members, accepted their place in the Hall of Fame and recounted a number of stories which delighted all in attendance.
Bob Hodges’ induction was accepted by his son Ken Hodges, and his grandson Daniel.
In 1977 Connors State College Gary Harding was hired as an agriculture instructor, later becoming the department head before becoming Dean of Agriculture in 2004. During his time at Connors the department of agriculture experienced increased enrollment and a revitalized faculty. Harding oversaw the restarting of the college’s bull test sale while also supervising the Oklahoma Simmental bull test, and the Oklahoma Forage bull test. Harding added the Santa Gertrudis, Simmental and Angus herds to the program, in addition to the sheep flock. He was also responsible for the acquisition of a 1,300-acre property, since named Harding Ranch, which is used to by the college for grazing, a demonstration waterfowl habitat, as well as home to the Connors State Shooting Sports Facility.
Bob Hodges was hired by Connors in 1946 and is considered the father of the Connors’ agriculture program. During his tenure, Hodges taught every agriculture course offered while managing the college’s farm operations. At the time, the farm not only provided food for the college, but also turned a small profit. In 1947, he started Aggie Day, which 70 years later, brings more than 1,000 students to campus each April. In 1948 he formalized the agriculture team programs with the creation of freshman and sophomore judging contest. In 1961, Hodges initiated the original bull performance project.
Hodges brought positive attention to the campus with championship Holstein and Hereford cattle herds and Duroc hogs.
In addition to Hodges’ 27 years of service, the Hodges family also developed a strong connection with Connors. His wife Mary Hodges worked in the Business Office for 21 years. Both children, Joy and Kenneth, graduated from Connors. Kenneth went on to teach for 3 years while grandson, Daniel, was also employed for 2 years. The Hodges family has dedicated a total of 57 years of service to Connors State College. Hodges passed away in January of 1997.
In July 1979, Dr. Gary W. Updyke was hired at Connors as the Dean of Agriculture and Technical Education. Later he became the Dean of Academic and Student Affairs before being named Vice President of Academic Services in 1990. He was then named Vice President of Institutional Services in 1997.
During his time at Connors, Dr. Updyke worked with Jerry McPeak, John Turnbull, Fred Williams and Gary Harding to develop nationally recognized livestock and equine judging teams, nationally recognized equine and rodeo programs and the finest bull test in the state of Oklahoma. During his tenure, Dr. Updyke was also instrumental in the development of the Services to the Aging program, associates in nursing program, veteran’s program and the child development lab.
After arriving in Warner in July of 1979 to begin work at Connors State, Fred Williams, along with the help of Dr. Gary Updyke, Gary Harding, Vice President A.D. Stone, the Connors State Farm employees and then President Carl Westbrook, worked frantically alongside the primary contractor to convert the existing dairy barn to a horse barn and erect an outdoor arena, necessary to begin riding classes in August of the same year.
Despite so much time dedicated to facilities development, Williams still managed to recruit the original fifteen Connors State equine students and enough equitation horses and two-year-old colts to begin classes that fall. Although small in numbers, those original fifteen students made a lasting impact on the future success of the program.
Recognizing the need to have a riding facility to accommodate all weather conditions, Williams then oversaw the construction of the indoor arena in 1980. Over the course of his time at Connors State, Williams’ continued to improve the facilities, adding additional barns and stock pens.
The facility improvements allowed for expansion of the program which grew to add an additional 20-30 new freshman each year during the tenure of Williams’ time at Connors State. These students were educated in equine skeletal and internal anatomy, breeding, advertising and marketing along with four semesters of riding labs. These labs included equitation, starting two-year-old colts, one class of English equitation, advanced training, and an externship which allowed students to receive college credit while learning from an equestrian professional in a specialty of their choosing.
Students also were required to work on morning and nighttime feed crews, clean stalls, and maintain facilities as part of their coursework. The program Fred created was designed to completely prepare students for all aspects of a career in the equine industry while still offering the opportunity to complete an associate’s degree which allowed for the opportunity to further their education at a four-year university.
In addition to the estimated 800 students who completed the equine program during Williams’ career, there were also over 2,800 two-year-old colts who were broke to ride at Connors State and countless other horses ridden in other classes. Williams’ took great pride in growing the knowledge of his four-legged students, as much as his two-legged protégés. The waiting list to enroll colts in the program was long and horse owners often referred to their horses as Connors State graduates after they had completed the program. With the complete dedication to all his students, it is not surprising that many of Williams’ graduates, students and horses alike, have went on to tremendous success in the equestrian arena.
In addition to building the equine program at Connors, Williams started the Connors State Rodeo Team, which became NIRA-sanctioned in 1998, and has had several members represent the college at the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association National Finals.