Larry Turner is remembered for many accomplishments in agricultural engineering, from teaching to research to leadership as a department chair and as associate dean for extension. His colleagues often use the word “dedicated” in describing Dr. Turner and his contributions to education and agricultural engineering in Kentucky . There is no question he dedicated his professional life to the University of Kentucky .
Dr. Turner grew up on a farm near Rising Sun in southeastern Indiana, just across the Ohio River from Boone County, Kentucky. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agricultural engineering at Purdue University , he worked tirelessly in several roles over a long and distinguished career at UK in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. He joined the University in 1978 as an extension agricultural engineer and a faculty member in energy management. He earned his Ph.D. in agricultural engineering at UK in 1984. In 1999 he was named chair of the department and in 2002 was promoted to associate dean for extension.
On August 27, 2006, Dr. Turner was leaving for an extension conference in Puerto Rico, a passenger on Flight 5191 that crashed attempting to take off at Bluegrass Airport in Lexington . Dr. Turner’s accomplishments reflected his philosophy that those in his field should strive to improve the lives of others.
In 2002, at the time Dr. Turner’s appointment as associate dean for extension was announced, College of Agriculture Dean Scott Smith said Dr. Turner had “the experience, the understanding of the issues, the communication skills and the vision necessary to lead our state’s Cooperative Extension Service into the 21st century.”
The position of associate dean for extension carries a wide range of responsibility. Dr. Turner, as usual, had a clear, concise understanding of the challenge of leading the extension service, which employs 400 agents throughout the Commonwealth. He saw the service as a combination of three critically important parts: people, programs and partnerships.
As associate dean, Dr. Turner headed a statewide streamlining and enhancement effort called “Re-envisioning Extension,” and led the successful effort to develop the County Enhancement Initiative which established a county agent career advancement track. He was a strong backer of HEEL — Health Education through Extension Leadership — a program that allowed extension professionals to partner with the UK College of Medicine to improve and support health education projects in Kentucky .
Dr. Turner believed the extension service was an excellent way to, in his words, “take the university to the people.” He was an enthusiastic supporter of grassroots extension programs, including agriculture and natural resources, 4-H youth development, family and consumer sciences and community and economic development. He was dedicated to making Extension a diverse organization, and served as a member of the National Extension Diversity Task Force.
As a leader, Dr. Turner was effective in bringing people together to accomplish a common goal. He led multi-state, multi-disciplinary efforts in the development of a swine growth computer model that was eventually used in several states. Under his leadership as chair, the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering increased external research and extension grants from an annual level of $250,000 in 1999 to more than $4 million in a three-year period.
Known throughout Kentucky and beyond as a leader in agriculture, Dr. Turner was highly respected and admired by his colleagues in the College of Engineering as well.
“At UK , as at most other land-grant institutions, agricultural engineering resides in both the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering,” said College of Engineering Dean Thomas W. Lester . “As department chair, Larry did a marvelous job at strengthening the ties between that engineering discipline and others in the College of Engineering .
“Larry was a key figure in the establishment of a Rural Products Development initiative in partnership with the Center for Manufacturing,” Dean Lester added. “He was an ardent advocate for expanding the educational initiatives of the state’s 4-H program to include engineering. Before all of these endeavors, however, Larry was first and foremost a wonderful colleague as a faculty member in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.”
Dr. Turner is remembered and honored in many ways. An athletic field at the Lexington Christian Academy is named the Larry Turner Memorial Field. A friend made a 3,800-mile journey on a bicycle to honor Dr. Turner and raise funds for Kentucky 4-H Foundation. Another delivered a eulogy with a theme that urged others to carry on his work and his principles: “Let’s live like Larry.”