April 4, 2022
Contact: Marcus Wilkins, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eldon Cole was an eager 18-year-old farm boy when he first experienced hands-on learning at the University of Missouri. The year was 1958, and the windswept fields of East Campus were dappled with incoming freshmen exploring academic offerings at “Ag Day” hosted by the Division of Agricultural Sciences.
Cole considered various disciplines, but the Potosi, Missouri, lad was drawn to animal husbandry.
“I’ll never forget it,” Cole said. “The university shepherd, Jack Rhoades, was doing a tail-docking demonstration, showing students how to cut the tails off lambs. My dad had always wanted me to be a vet, but I didn’t want to work with sick animals. I wanted to work with healthy ones.”
As an MU Extension balanced farming agent and livestock specialist who has served all over the Show-Me State, Cole has made an illustrious career out of hands-on learning and teaching. With an astonishing 58 years on the job, he is also MU’s longest-serving current faculty member.
“When I came to MU, I had always wanted to be a farmer,” Cole said. “But by golly, that’s when Dad decided he didn’t want to continue farming and sold the family farm. There was no farm to go back to.”
MU Extension was a part of Cole’s life even before he enrolled. The late Elbert Waide, the Washington County extension agent, had helped Cole’s older sister, Genelle, get a job with the local extension office testing soil and working as a secretary — a job she held for 50 years. It was Waide who first escorted Cole to Columbia.
“I stood on the steps staring up at Jesse Hall thinking, ‘This is kind of a nice place,’” said Cole. “Before I knew it, I had set up my schedule, and I was fortunate enough to get a $125 scholarship.”
Cole went on to compete in livestock judging competitions and ultimately earn a master’s degree in animal husbandry. After heart issues kept him out of the draft following graduation, Waide helped Cole find his first extension job in 1964 as a Saline County “balanced farming” agent — a term referring to an advisor of all agricultural aspects.
Through the years, Cole has transitioned through roles as a farm management agent, livestock agent, county program director and livestock field specialist. Stationed since 1968 in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, Cole’s focus is on learning the science of livestock production and translating it into messages producers are ready to understand. His purview also includes forages, insects, weather and marketing.
“Eldon Cole is one of a kind,” said Tim Safranski, professor of animal science and Cole’s supervisor. “When MU Extension celebrated its 100th birthday, Eldon celebrated having worked for Extension for 50 years. That was eight years ago, and he is still going strong! He is an inspiration to generations.”
Cole also dedicates time to local radio appearances and agricultural news releases, although he prefers pen and paper to laptop or smartphone.
“He has everything written down on a yellow legal pad, and for a while he recorded cassettes for his spots that we would mail to the station,” said Janet Adams, Cole’s secretary. “He’s extremely dedicated, and in fact he beats me to the office most days. He’s usually on the phone with clients before I arrive at 8.”
Cole and his wife, Charlotte, have four children — Scott, Deanna, Brian and Kelly — and seven grandchildren, all representing a family tree festooned with black-and-gold Mizzou degrees. And the roots reach back to Cole’s fledgling moments as a young Tiger embarking on a long career.
“I still have my paperwork from my first MU job interview — a simple, one-sheet application with one question that stands out,” Cole said. “It asked, ‘How long do you plan to work for MU Extension?’
“I left it blank.”