Continuing the legacy of leadership in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a campaign to fund a multi-million dollar endowment in memory of Joe Townsend, Ph.D., and honoring Chris Townsend, Ph.D., has kicked off.

a woman in maroon and a man in a black suit - Chris and Joe Townsend - stand in front of a Texas A&M Agriculture and Life Sciences banner.
Chris Townsend, Ph.D., and Joe Townsend, Ph.D., affectionately known as Dr. Chris and Dr. Joe, are honored with a new endowed chair in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

For more than 30 years, “Dr. Joe” served as Texas A&M associate vice president for student development and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences associate dean for student development. Dr. Joe taught many courses and is remembered by thousands for his instruction in AGRI 101. 

“Dr. Chris” taught in two departments: the Department of Horticultural Sciences and the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications. Students remember her as their professor for courses as diverse as Floral Design and Leadership Theory.

To this day, hundreds of former students and industry stakeholders fondly look back at their time at Texas A&M and attribute much of their successes to the Townsends’ mentorship and support. Unfortunately, Dr. Joe Townsend passed away in July 2021 after a courageous battle with cancer.

“Joe wanted all types of students to grow into leaders,” said Chris Townsend, who met her husband when both were graduate students at Iowa State University before they ventured into long, successful faculty and administrative careers in Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Joe always wanted students to know leadership is not always at the top of the pyramid because you can lead from behind as well,” she said. “Leadership education is for everyone.” 

Continuing the legacy of leadership through the Fellows Program

Townsend’s leadership was honored with the establishment of the Dr. Joe Townsend ’67 ALEC Leadership Fellows Program in 2008. This program supports the advancement of undergraduate study in leadership theory through the activities of a select cohort of students.

A man in a suit and tie with his thumb up in the "gig-em" gesture - The late Joe Townsend, Ph.D.
 The Dr. Joe Townsend ’67 ALEC Leadership Fellows Program started in 2008. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

“The idea with the Fellows Program was to bring in student leaders, let them help us create it and select 20-25 students a year who would really study, enhance leadership study,” Chris Townsend said.

The high-impact experiences the Fellows Program creates for students allows them to not only develop but sharpen the tools for their leadership toolbox, said Jennifer Strong, Ph.D., faculty director for the Townsend Leadership Fellows Program and associate professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications.

“Field trips, guest speakers, service projects, creative projects and team development activities help Fellows connect leadership theory to practice,” Strong said. “Program graduates have been publicly celebrated for their leadership accomplishments by earning spots on the Aggie 100 as well as industry and civil awards, but it is their daily impact on their communities that makes the world a better place.”

Expanding Joe and Chris Townsend’s legacies of leadership through an endowment

Leroy “Shafe” Shafer ’67, chief operating officer emeritus of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and friend of Joe Townsend, said the Houston show is very familiar with students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences after having employed “hundreds of interns” from Texas A&M over the years. He explained how “Dr. Joe and Dr. Chris” prepared students for their future professional careers.

“I’ve talked to so many corporate leaders, and they said if Joe Townsend said this student was good, then they knew they were good,” Shafer said. “Joe and Chris not only worked with their students, but they mentored those students to help them grow and become leaders, inside and outside the classroom.”

Today, inspired by the momentum of an initial gift by Shafer and his wife Nancy, a $2 million campaign goal has been established to fund an endowed chair in leadership education and student excellence through the Dr. Chris and Dr. Joe Townsend ’67 Chair in Leadership Education and Student Excellence.

This faculty member will continue the Townsend’s legacies of leadership complimenting the Leadership Fellows Program while expanding opportunities across the College.

The Townsends tirelessly sought ways to find the best in students and help those students reach excellence. The endowed chair is designed to continue that emphasis on student success and will be guided by an external advisory committee of former students recognizing and appreciating the positive influence of the Townsends. 

In Townsend-style, the Chair holder will enhance student preparation for entry-level leadership position, mid-career enhancement and executive level development.

Campaign contributions will help fund mentorship opportunities in the following areas that emulate the Townsends’ values of leadership education and student excellence:

  • Faculty, staff and/or former student leadership undergraduate mentorship program.
  • Graduate student mentorship program for the next generation of academics.
  • Early career Aggies wishing to advance into management or executive roles.

“The endowment allows us to say that leadership will have a legacy at Texas A&M in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences forever,” Chris Townsend said. “I am proud Joe and I can leave this legacy behind at Texas A&M. Not only did we have 25 amazing years at Texas A&M, but we now have something we can leave forever with students in the College.”

A friendly face to countless Aggies across the world

Shafer first met Joe Townsend in 1963 during Texas 4-H Roundup, then became roommates during graduate school at Iowa State.

“Joe was an absolute in my life,” Shafer said. “He could always put people at ease, and everybody seemed to know him.”

Shafer said Townsend was known throughout the world. Shafer recalled coming in from flying a late-night combat mission in Vietnam, and the officer club’s dining room had closed.

“I was looking for food and a beer in the club’s bar area, and it was only me and one bartender—an enlisted soldier working extra duty,” Shafer said. “He looked at my hand and said, ‘Captain is that an Aggie ring? I taught in a high school back in Iowa with an A&M graduate. Do you know Joe Townsend?’”

Shafer said he will never forget his surprise at being nearly 9,000 miles away from home in a war zone and finding someone who knew Joe Townsend. “He said, ‘Captain, Guttenberg, Iowa, may be a little town, but Joe Townsend is known all over the world.’ Joe had that kind of impact.”

Paving the way for agricultural leadership and advocacy 

Shafer said the “dynamic duo” of Chris and Joe Townsend have already cemented what the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications is all about.

“Chris was instrumental when she became department head because before she joined, it was just the department of agricultural education,” Shafer said. “She helped put agricultural leadership, agricultural education, and agriculture communications and journalism together.

“Working alongside Dr. Chris, Dr. Joe saved so many students’ academic careers with his mentoring and paved the way for their future in business and education. Ultimately, the successes of many of those former students can be attributed to Dr. Joe’s mentorship and leadership.”

As a result of their collaborative efforts, both Joe and Chris Townsend were honored with a proclamation from the 81st Texas Legislature for their agricultural advocacy and leadership. The proclamation recognized the couple “as role models for educators, mentors and advocates for young people across Texas and that they be extended our sincerest appreciation for their service to our state through their efforts.”

“The creation of this endowment will ensure their legacies are endured in perpetuity,” Shafer said. “Think back to when you were a student sitting across from Dr. Joe and Dr. Chris. It is your chance to say, ‘thank you.’”

To give in honor of the Townsends and strengthen their legacy, give online to the Dr. Chris and Dr. Joe Townsend ’67 Chair in Leadership Education and Student Excellence or contact Bailey Allison ’21 at [email protected].

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