On the path to retirement you collect mental sound bites, numbers and snapshots of your life. Some of them you keep, others end up in the landfill of nostalgia. There are all the places you have lived, awards, the number of students you’ve taught and significant dates.
Gary Straquadine, associate vice president for technical education at Utah State University Eastern, retires with 84 graduate students, five campuses, 11 monasteries, four marathons short of 100, and the date Sept. 26, 2005, as a beacon on his life map. Most recently he received the 2020 Distinguished Professor of the Year Award for the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.
Straquadine came to USU in 1988 already an Aggie. “I’ve always been an Aggie, it’s just the first part was as a New Mexico State Aggie where I got my BS and MA in agricultural education,” he said. He was briefly a Buckeye while completing this Ph.D. at The Ohio State University.
“Looking back, I’m most proud of changing how agricultural education is taught around the state,” he recalls. “Both at the high school and collegiate level, I’ve been part of a team of faculty who changed how we approach vocational education. I think we have continued to renovate and reform technical education to adapt to people’s current job needs and the industry’s future expectations.”
His impact on agricultural education was honored in April by the Utah FFA Association, which presented him with its 2022 Distinguished Service Award. Straquadine said his approach to education has been especially effective in rural areas, where USU trains students in diesel technology, instrument controls, and in medical and health technologies. The programs allow graduates to make enough money to stay where they live, he said. Most recently he has been developing vocational education programs at Green River High School.
In the past 34 years, Straquadine has had administrative and teaching positions on USU’s main campus in Logan as well as the campus in Tooele and most recently at USU Eastern in Price. There were some pauses. Straquadine was recruited back to Ohio State to serve as department chair from 2012-2015, and subsequently returned to USU in 2016. He also took a sabbatical year in 2003 to study at the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity in Huntsville, Utah, where the monks farmed and kept bees.
“I actually visited 11 different monasteries across the country that incorporated agriculture in their daily lives,” Straquadine said. “Staying with the monks made me more reflective. I got in the practice of praying seven times a day. Living here made me a better Catholic.”
The Huntsville Abbey closed in 2017.
Running and religion have been constants in Straquadine’s life. At age 66 he quips that “they now time me with a calendar,” but he’s nearing having run 100 total marathons dating back to his first in 1992.
“I probably started distance running as a way to relieve stress,” he said. “That was the year I got divorced and also the year I ran my personal best marathon of 3 hours and 20 minutes,” he said. He remarried 10 years later and kept running.
He jokes that one of his most famous former graduate students became his boss. Brian Warnick, associate dean of USU’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, did his master’s degree with Straquadine and later a sabbatical at Ohio State, shadowing him as department head.
“I met Gary in 1994, before the master’s degree,” Warnick said. “He made it possible for me to switch my degree to agricultural education and finish in two years, when others had told me I had to start over from scratch. Gary is the epitome of the word ‘mentor’ in all that he does. That’s because he sees potential and encourages people. He believes in people more than they believe in themselves. I kept resisting getting a Ph.D., but he persisted and he helped me get into a program at Oregon State University through connections with a colleague.
“It’s a cliché, but I would not be where I am today without Gary,” Warnick said. “He’s been my mentor every step of the way for 28 years.”
The date Straquadine most remembers, Sept. 26, 2005, is not part of his curriculum vitae. That was the day a USU instructor and eight students died in a van accident on Interstate 84 near Tremonton while returning from a field trip.
“I had driven that van a few weeks earlier and had Evan Parker (the instructor and driver) as a graduate student and Agricultural Systems Technology and Education Department faculty member,” Straquadine said. “I was standing in front of the ASTE building as the family members started calling and coming in.”
“That accident shifted my thinking about students and life,” he said. “It made me take stock of what we do at Utah State. I needed to get serious about my mentoring relationships with students. Personally, I thought, ‘I can’t fake it anymore, this is a God moment.’ These are events that can change your life into becoming a more focused, committed person.”
Other than chasing marathon No. 100 and beyond, Straquadine said he mostly has small plans for retirement. “I don’t really want to write a book, do consulting or international travel,” he said. “I just want to stay active in service around the Cache Valley community. Maybe that will be pulling weeds at one of the churches or driving for Meals on Wheels. I also have six extra-special grandchildren to visit around the country.”
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Extension and CAAS Marketing and Communications
Associate Vice President for Career & Technical Education
Utah State University
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