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February 26, 2009   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
February 26, 2009

Ag Alumni President Jim Tollison, right, congratulates the 2008 Hall of Honor inductees, from left, Ronnie Holladay, Dr. Richard Guthrie and Chuck Speir.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Three living legends of Alabama agriculture and two rural pioneers were inducted into the Alabama Agriculture Hall of Honor Tuesday, Feb. 24, during a banquet at the Auburn University Dixon Conference Center.

The awards program, sponsored by the Auburn University Agricultural Alumni Association, recognized Dr. Richard Guthrie for his accomplishments in the education and government category, Ronnie Holladay for production agriculture and Wyeth Holt (Chuck) Speir Jr., for agribusiness. In addition, Samuel H. Booker and Ralph Winfred Martin Jr. were honored posthumously with the Pioneer Award.

Guthrie, who has served as dean of the AU College of Agriculture since 2005, worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service for 20 years where he contributed to improving soil mapping in the state and nation. A 1962 graduate of Auburn University, Guthrie returned to campus in 1983 as professor and head of the Department of Agronomy and Soils. In 1988, he was appointed associate dean for international programs, a position he held 15 years.

Like Guthrie, Holladay is an Auburn University graduate. But rather than pursuing a career in academics, Holladay returned to his Lowndes County farm where he earned distinction both for his personal success and his contributions to the industry as a whole.

During the past four decades, Holladay's farm has grown from a commercial cow-calf and registered Santa Gertrudis ranch to become a diversified row crop, beef cattle, hay, turfgrass and wildlife operation.

Meanwhile, Holladay has served as president of the Alabama Cattlemen's Association, AU Agricultural Alumni Association and Lowndes County Farmers Federation. He also served eight years on the national Cattlemen's Beef Promotion and Research Board including one term as chairman.

Although Speir is best known as co-founder of Dixie Ag Supply, his accomplishments during the past half-century have spanned education, production and agribusiness. A 1958 graduate of Auburn and veteran of the U.S. Army, Speir taught vocational agriculture and served as a county agent before taking a job with Helena Chemical Company in 1967.

Speir returned to his family's Selma farm in 1977 where he and brother Harold started their own ag chemical supply business. Dixie Ag Supply served farmers in Alabama, central Tennessee, southeast Mississippi and the Florida panhandle -- all while giving scores of Auburn agriculture graduates a chance for a successful career.

Like the other honorees, Martin was known for his leadership and generosity. A native of Albertville, Martin moved to Wilcox County with his family at age 16. It was there that he built a successful beef, soybeans and timber operation with wife Olivia. He also was a pioneer in the west Alabama catfish industry, building more than 200 acres of catfish ponds and serving as chairman of the SouthFresh Aquaculture board of directors.

An avid pilot, Martin served in the Civil Air Patrol and frequently volunteered his plane and services to those in need. He served on the board of the Alabama Farmers Cooperative from 1974 until his death in 2006, including two terms as chairman.

Although not a farmer, Booker was a lifelong advocate of agriculture. A World War II veteran, Booker graduated from Auburn (then Alabama Polytechnic Institute) in 1947. In July of that year, he went to work for Alabama Power Company, beginning a career that spanned 39 years.

During his tenure, Booker climbed through the ranks of the company from junior rural service engineer to chief agricultural engineer and eventually to vice president of sales. Throughout his career, Booker championed programs and services that helped farmers provide heat, lighting and water to their barns, crops and livestock.

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