Dr. Johnny Wynne, who retired this summer as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was honored June 12 at a gala celebration at N.C. State University’s McKimmon Center. More than 400 well-wishers – including Wynne’s family and N.C. State faculty, students, alumni and friends – gathered at the reception and dinner event, hosted by the College. Dr. James Oblinger, former N.C. State chancellor and former CALS dean, was master of ceremonies, as Wynne was honored with special presentations and video testimonials.
A highlight of the evening was the announcement that the Wynne Fund for Innovation, established by the College to honor Dean Wynne’s work and vision, had raised more than $411,000. The fund, the first of its kind established to honor a retiring N.C. State dean, will be used by Wynne’s successor and the College to provide funding and support to enhance the university’s expertise in critical areas and allow faculty members to grow ideas into innovative solutions that drive economic impact.
Joining Wynne and N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson on stage for a symbolic $411,000 check presentation were major donors Dr. William K. Collins Sr., William H. Culpepper, Charles W. Davenport, S. Lawrence Davenport and Kendall Hill.
Earlier, Britt Cobb, chief of staff to N.C. Gov. Beverly Perdue, made a special surprise presentation. Representing Perdue, he bestowed upon Wynne the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, which honors those who have in more than 30 years of service made a significant difference to the state.
Another surprise came during Woodson’s remarks, when the N.C. State mascots, Mr. and Ms. Wuf, arrived to give Wynne a football and a basketball inscribed, respectively, by N.C. State coaches Tom O’Brien and Mark Gottfried. Woodson said that while most know Wynne as a “calm and collected individual, he is truly passionate about Wolfpack sports.”
As photos from Wynne’s youth, college days and CALS career played upon a big screen, Oblinger led in sharing anecdotes and reminiscences about Wynne, both on the job and off. Joining him was Dr. Steven Leath, current president of Iowa State University and former CALS associate dean and director of the N.C. Agricultural Research Service.
Also appearing were Deborah Johnson of the N.C. Pork Council, who offered the invocation, as well as Teresa James, singer and songwriter, and CALS student Rossie Blinson, both of whom performed special song selections.
In a night when his activities as CALS dean, faculty member and student were extolled by friends and colleagues, Wynne quietly took the stage and said, “I used to say, ‘When I retire, on Friday afternoon, I just want to turn off the lights and go home.’ This has been far from that. I am overwhelmed that over 400 of you are here tonight.”
As for the many noted College achievements during his leadership, he said, “I have headed an organization that’s accomplished all the things you heard about tonight. I want to thank all of those that helped – starting with our world-class faculty, the outstanding students, the dedicated staff and a great group of alumni. And we have a tremendous group of supporters of CALS.”
Then, reminding the group that 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the passage of the Morrill Act, which enabled the land-grant university system, Wynne said, “I believe in the land-grant mission. The Morrill Act gave average citizens the opportunity to go to school. I came from a 15-acre farm and was the first in our family to go to college. If I helped others to have that opportunity, then I’ve done what I’m supposed to do.”
And always mindful of what’s ahead for the College, he said, “We’re all excited to see how the Innovation Fund will be used.” – Terri Leith