Linda F. Benedict, McClure, Olivia J.
Since its beginning in 1914, Louisiana Cooperative Extension has had 11 directors. The current director, Bill Richardson, is also the LSU vice president for agriculture. Following are brief biographies of these leaders.
William Rufus Dodson, 1914-1917
Dodson was born in 1867 and grew up in Belton, Texas. He held degrees from the University of Missouri and Harvard. He came to LSU as a botany instructor. In 1904, he became director of the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station. In this position, he organized the first boys’ corn clubs in Louisiana. From 1909 to 1928, he served as the first dean of the College of Agriculture. In 1914, when the Smith-Lever Act passed, he took on the duties of directing the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. Until 1917, Dodson led all three divisions at agriculture at LSU — the College of Agriculture, the experiment station and extension. During World War I, he served on the National Agricultural Advisory Committee and led the Federal Food Production Campaign in the South. He moved to New Iberia, La., to work for the federal government in 1929. He returned to LSU in 1936. His obituary in the New Orleans Item says he stayed until retiring in 1938 but does not say what he did. The Times-Picayune says he returned and was dean of the college until 1944. He died in 1951. The Dodson Auditorium on LSU’s campus is named after him.
William Robert Perkins, 1917-1928
Perkins was born in 1865 in Oktibbeha County, Miss. He attended Mississippi State College, now known as Mississippi State University, and worked as a chemist, agronomist and professor in Mississippi and South Carolina. In 1915, he came to LSU to be an extension forage crop specialist. Two years later he became director of extension. When he left LSU in 1928, he returned to Mississippi to be assistant director of the South Mississippi Experiment Station. In 1930 he became director of Mississippi’s agricultural experiment station. He died in 1939.
William Benjamin Mercier, 1928-1931
Mercier was born in 1868 in Summit, Miss. He graduated from Mississippi A & M College, today called Mississippi State University, in 1892. He worked three years as farm manager of the Louisiana Experiment Station in Baton Rouge, then returned to Mississippi to operate a large farm. He became a county agent in Amite County in 1909. Seaman Knapp recognized Mercier’s hard work and secured him a job with Farmers Cooperative Demonstration Work in Washington, D.C., where he became a Southern regional agent. In 1923, W.R. Perkins asked Mercier to come to Louisiana to be his assistant director. Mercier became director when Perkins retired in 1928. In 1931 he became director emeritus and continued work on several agriculture research projects. He died in 1939.
John Wesley Bateman, 1931-1940
Bateman was born in 1884 in Washington Parish. He attended Louisiana State Normal College, today called Northwestern State University, and LSU. He taught elementary and high school and eventually worked for the Louisiana Department of Education. He also served as head of rural education at Louisiana State Normal College and was a county agent in Natchitoches Parish. In 1931, he became director of extension at LSU. At a 1940 meeting, the LSU Board of Supervisors discussed Gov. Sam Jones’ criticism of extension. Jones was quoted in the Baton Rouge State-Times as saying there were “too many county agents standing around on [street] corners.” Bateman was out of town when this meeting took place. The morning he returned to campus, Acting LSU President Paul M. Hebert summoned him for a meeting, after which Bateman resigned. He was replaced by the assistant director, H.C. Sanders. Bateman died in 1969.
Harry Clayton Sanders, 1940-1961
Sanders was born in 1898 on a farm in Lincoln Parish. He studied agriculture at the Clemson Agricultural and Mechanical College in South Carolina. He worked as an agriculture teacher in Georgia in 1920. He then moved to Louisiana to teach vocational agriculture. In 1923 he became a district extension agent for northwestern Louisiana. In 1940 he became extension director and held that position for 21 years. He published a book about extension instruction techniques in 1972.
John Cox, 1961-1978
Cox was born in 1912 in Peach, Texas, and grew up in Caddo Parish, where he was a 4-H’er. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in horticulture from LSU. He was an agricultural agent for the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad then served in World War II. He began working in extension in 1945 and moved all the way up to the director position in 1961. In 1967 he initiated the Giant Step Program, which strived to double the value of farming in Louisiana from $1 billion to $2 billion. After five years, the value had increased to only $1.7 million, so he launched Giant Step II, which did a detailed study of every parish’s agricultural potential and educational and technological needs. By the time he retired, agriculture was a $4 billion industry in the state. He helped promote the farming of soybeans and crawfish when they were unpopular. He also worked with Steele Burden to establish the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge. Cox died in 2003.
Denver Loupe, 1978-1993
Loupe participated in 4-H and FFA as a boy. He attended Northwestern State University for a year then entered the U.S. Navy. He returned to Northwestern for two more years, then came to LSU and graduated with a degree in agriculture. He went on to receive a master’s degree and doctorate at LSU. He taught school for three years in Ascension Parish and then became an extension agent in St. James Parish. From 1954 to 1978 he was a sugarcane specialist. Early in his career as a specialist, he helped institute the sugarcane high yield program, which still exists today. He became plant science division leader and then director of extension in 1978.
Bruce Flint, 1993-1995
Flint grew up on a farm in northeastern Louisiana. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from LSU then served four years in the U.S. Army. In 1956, he began his first extensionjob as an assistant county agent in Union Parish. While moving through the ranks of Extension, he received a master’s degree in extension education from LSU and a doctorate in cooperative extension administration from the University of Wisconsin. In 1980, he became assistant director of extension and was responsible for personnel, business and fiscal matters. In 1988, he became director of the AgCenter’s administrative services. One year later he was promoted to vice chancellor for administration. In 1993, Flint returned to extension as the director of the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service and held that position until retiring in 1995.
Jack Bagent, 1995-2001
Bagent grew up on a farm in Rocky Mount, La., and participated in 4-H in elementary school. He received a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Louisiana Tech University. He then came to LSU for a master’s degree in entomology. He began working for the Louisiana Cooperative Extension service in 1964 as an entomology specialist. In 1973 he became leader of the Environmental Sciences Division. He became director of extension in 1995. He was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2002.
Paul Coreil, 2001-2013
Coreil is from Ville Platte, La., and was a 4-H’er. He received his bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, today called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, in 1976. Two years later he began working as a fishery and wildlife extension agent in Cameron and Calcasieu parishes. In 1984, he earned a master’s degree in wildlife management from LSU, and in 1995, a doctorate in vocational education. In 1996 he became associate specialist for wetland and coastal resources. He became director of extension in 2001. He chaired the committee that developed eXtension.org, a nationwide online extension information system.
William B. Richardson, 2013—
After Coreil’s retirement in 2013, the extension director duties were folded into the responsibilities of LSU Vice President for Agriculture William B. “Bill” Richardson. A native of Kennett, Mo., he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arkansas State University and a doctorate from the University of Missouri, all in vocational education. He taught high school vocational agriculture. From 1972 to 1984, he was a professor at Purdue University. He then moved to LSU to be the director of the School of Vocational Education. Two years later, he became associate dean of the College of Agriculture, and in 1992, he was named dean. He became chancellor of the AgCenter in 1997. In 2013, the LSU Board of Supervisors voted to consolidate the administrations of the AgCenter and College of Agriculture, and Richardson took on a dual role as vice president for agriculture and dean of the college.
Olivia McClure is a student worker in LSU AgCenter Communications.
(This article was published in the spring 2014 issues of Louisiana Agriculture Magazine.)