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Wayne Smith – Making strides in Forestry and beyond

Wayne Smith – Making strides in Forestry and beyond

Wayne Smith has led a very colorful life, full of opportunities many can only dream about, while continuing to leave impressions wherever he goes.  Smith is a 1956 honor graduate from Marianna High School and a 1960 graduate with high honors from his beloved University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture with a major in Agronomy.  Smith opted to continue his education and received his MS degree in 1962 and PhD in 1965 from Mississippi State with his major in Forest Soils.  After his graduation from Mississippi State, Smith said the best job he could find was at the University of Florida as an assistant professor in Forest Ecology.  His 39-year-long professional career with UF/IFAS began when he joined the School of Forestry that is now School of Forest Resources and Conversation (SFRC) as an Assistant Professor.  He quickly earned promotions to Associate and Full Professor and served UF/IFAS with distinction in various academic and administrative leadership positions.  Those included the Assistant Director of SFRC from 1973-78, and three IFAS interdisciplinary Centers and Programs:  Center for Environmental and Natural Resource Programs from 1978-85; Center for Biomass Energy Systems from 1981-1996, and the Energy Extension Service from 1985-1995.  In 1995, he returned to the School as Director of SFRC where he stayed until 2003 when he retired. 

Following his formal retirement in 2003, he earned the Emeritus status and continued to serve UF/IFAS, including as Interim Dean for Research and Director Agricultural Experiment Station in 2004 and Interim Dean for College of Agricultural and Live Sciences (CALS) in 2005 and volunteer with SFRC and UF/IFAS, serving as Chair of the SHARE Council of the University of Florida Foundation for four years ending in 2017. 

During his entire career, Wayne Smith remained in the Gainesville area, except during the two years he spent in Washington DC on professional development leave in 1973-74 as a Forest Biologist with the USDA, CSRS and then in 1985-86 as Federal Agency Liaison for UF/IFAS. In addition to the service to his profession, Wayne has been actively involved in the local community by memberships in the Jaycees and the Rotary International service clubs. In the latter, he has been club president, chair of the Newberry High School scholarship, the regional Ambassadorial Scholarship and the District Global Grants Scholarship and the Rotary Foundation committees. 

He and his wife, Mitzi Austin, a local attorney (partner, retired), have made substantial personal gifts to the University. Recently they endowed support for a professorship in natural resources policy and law, made leadership gifts to the Learning Center and to the Turpentine Education Site development. He has pledged in his will support for the John Gray Fund for Excellence and the Wayne Smith Student Leadership Funds that he helped create. Wayne Smith has been recognized throughout his career and has been very generous to give back to his passions throughout his life.  

Wayne Smith has sustained his commitment to IFAS/CALS and the resources, industries and professions served. His early work was in bio-geochemical cycling and the role of nutrition on pine reproduction. During his career, he taught courses at both the undergraduate level and served as faculty advisor to various student organizations, including the Forestry Club the SFRC Council and Alpha Zeta. He did pioneering research in the Cooperative for Research in Forest Fertilization involving the forest products and related industries, federal and state agencies and the university that he co-founded and directed. This work led to routine fertilization practices to increase pine forest productivity in the Southeast from about one half to two cords of wood per acre per year. He initiated the Intensive Management Practices Assessment Center that established the first ever watershed studies in pine flatwoods. The research conducted by the Center formed the basis for Best Management Practices for water quality protection formulated by the Florida Division of Forestry with stakeholders and accepted by the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation. To the center’s knowledge these were the first BMP’s adopted for any agricultural commodity crop in Florida or elsewhere.  Smith earned USDOE funding for the first biomass energy research project in Florida and then led the IFAS Center for Biomass Energy Systems that supported research on bio-ethanol, wood gasification, and biogasification of biomass and waste and energy crop development. This pioneering work in the 1970’s and the 1980’s placed Florida in a leading position in bioenergy when new energy problems evolved again.  

His research and outreach projects generated over $16 million of extramural funds for the UF/IFAS and the results of his work are recorded in 147 technical papers, seven books (education) and 102 other publications. He has been a catalyst in IFAS for interdisciplinary programs and all designed to integrate, Departments, Research and Education Centers and County faculties to solve stakeholder problems. As Director of the School of Forest Resources he strengthened relationships with alumni and stakeholders by initiating an external School Advisory Board. He assisted the faculty in forming a new Forest Biology Research Cooperative and convincing the USDA to return to the campus and form a Wildland/Urban Interface Center. Such a program is extremely relevant in an urban state with 14 million acres of forest land. In retirement Smith volunteered to assist UF/IFAS and the School in fund raising, recently helping to restore the Conference Building lost to fire as the new Learning Center and most recently raising funds to establish a Turpentine Education Site with a historically accurate turpentine fire still as the center piece at the Austin Cary Forest campus of the School.

He served as the Florida and the Southeastern Chairs of the Society of American Foresters. He was inducted in the Florida Hall of Fame of the Society of American Foresters and named a national Fellow the highest award of the Society.  He has received many local, national and international awards. A few highly prized awards are noted here. He was awarded the Medal of Service by UF/ IFAS in 2003.  The Mississippi State University in 2010 named him an Alumni Fellow.  The award of Distinction was granted him in 2012 by the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, the SHARE organization of the University of Florida Foundation named him Volunteer of the Year in 2012 and presented him the SHARE Vision Award in 2016. 

Smith was recently awarded the Ruby C. McSwain Outstanding Philanthropist award by the National Agricultural Alumni and Development Association.

The award recognizes an individual or individuals with a record of sustained giving to support agriculture, agricultural higher education, Cooperative Extension, or land grant universities. This award also recognizes an individual for his/her role as an advocate for agriculture and natural resources and for their philanthropy in community organizations, religious institutions, art, environment and social services.  

Smith has been an ardent supporter of UF and its work in agriculture and natural resources. A loyal donor for more than 40 years, Smith has supported 48 projects across 13 different units and departments. Within UF/IFAS alone, Smith has supported 28 funds that advance agriculture and natural resources.

“While his giving is exceptional, it is topped only by his passion for leaving things better than he found them,” said Christy Chiarelli, UF senior director of development and external affairs. “For example, Dr. Smith worked tirelessly for more than 25 years to raise funds to restore a turpentine still to be used as a teaching tool at our university forest. He personally prepared grant proposals and wrote more than 100 letters to potential donors.”

“Under his leadership, close to $100,000 along with materials and artifacts were raised for this project. Thanks to Dr. Smith’s passion for UF and its work, the site with the turpentine still is restored to historic accuracy and was dedicated on April 1. This project would never have happened without the leadership of Dr. Smith.”

Smith is the longest-serving chairman of the UF/IFAS SHARE Council—a volunteer fundraising board that seeks private support for programs in UF/IFAS. He also served on the fundraising committee to rebuild the Austin Cary Learning Center after it was lost to a fire, Chiarelli said.

While his focus was on raising funds, and procuring materials to build the building, he and his wife, Mitzi Austin, funded the outdoor deck, which was then named for them.

The couple have established the Wayne Smith and Mitzi Austin Forest Resources Law and Policy Professorship to bridge both of their professions—forestry and law, Chiarelli said. They regularly support the John Gray Fund for Excellence in Natural Resources and the Wayne Smith Student Leadership Fund in the SFRC.

In addition, Smith is a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow, and chaired his club’s Foundation Committee to raise money to address polio eradication and for other projects. The couple have sponsored a student in Guatemala with a three-year scholarship as part of their work with Rotary International, and annually support the Sunrise Rotary Club’s fundraising efforts to support local projects. They annually support programs that help provide healthcare for underserved rural residents and homeless needs in Alachua County.

“Dr. Smith is a true example of an individual who is strongly committed to the land grant system,” Chiarelli said. “He shows his commitment through his actions, deeds and support.”

About the award, Smith said, “I benefited from the support of others and the university which made my university education possible—opening up a world of knowledge and experiences for me.” Thus, I am grateful that we have the opportunity to pay back those who helped me and help those less fortunate.”

About his career and life in general, Smith says, “My career gave me an opportunity to do a lot of things. I had the pleasure of traveling with my job which afforded me to see many things.  My wife and I continue to travel during our retirement.”  Wayne and Mitzi enjoy traveling, targeting each year at least one place abroad, one place in North America, and one place in Florida, and spending time with their grandchildren in Boulder, Colorado. Wayne said, “We have been to 48 of the states and 47 different countries.  It has exposed me to a lot of knowledge as well as experiences of the world and other cultures.  It was an eye-opening experience from being raised in Marianna on a farm that’s 12 miles from in front of the post office in a place called Dry Creek. But basically, we do two things - we travel as much as we can while we have good health and then I do volunteer, work mostly fundraising for the UF, the University of Florida Agricultural Foundation.”   Wayne and his wife live in Melrose, Florida.

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