Don Rolston: 1994 Ag Citizen of the Year
By Virginia Wakefield
1994 State Fair Edition, inserted Aug. 6, 1994
Don Rolston, Cheyenne, is one of two recipients of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup’s 1994 Wyoming Agricultural Citizen of the Year award.
Born and raised on a ranch near Sheridan, Don earned an ag degree from the University of Wyoming and taught vocational ag in Sundance for four years. He changed directions, becoming a county extension agent in Casper. He earned a master’s degree in Extension Administration in 1969, and then was with the university extension systems in Wyoming and Nevada for 25 years.
After serving as Executive Vice President for the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Rolston returned to Wyoming to serve as Agriculture Commissioner from 1987 until April 1994.
Now Commissioner of the Wyoming Department of Commerce, Don reflects on his new position, saying, “In this state, agriculture is never very far away from ANY state department.”
Bill Gentle, who succeeds Rolston as Agriculture Commissioner, believes Don is “absolutely deserving” of the Roundup’s award.
“This department is totally different from what it was before Don came. He gave it a new focus and direction. I probably wouldn’t be in this position now without the guidance and training I received from Don.”
Don remembers, “One of my greatest satisfactions has been the Ag Department’s ability to change internally with the support of the people and their willingness to move with me.”
Gentle recalls that Rolston tried to make the ag department and activities highly visible.
“He talked to literally hundred of groups about ag.”
One of Rolston’s first projects as commissioner was to put together a ten-year plan for Wyoming’s agriculture industry.
“Back when we hadn’t broken out of that bad cycle of foreclosures and bankruptcies, I set up town meetings all across the state to listen to the concerns of ranchers and farmers. I wanted to know what they wanted from state government, and what their perceptions were.
“When I was in Afton, somebody there said, ‘So that’s what the Commissioner of Ag looks like!’”
Don sat down with representative form the various ag groups and called in financial experts. They came up with a contract between bankers and ranchers. They drafted a ten-year ag plan and took it to the people in twenty-two meetings.
“Over 700 people responded to the meetings and gave input. We did a draft and sent it back to them. The people built the plan; we finished it off.”
While Don was Commissioner, Wyoming became a national leader in developing a Coordinated Resource management (CRM) program.
“IT was one of the most significant things that came out of the 10-year planning process. From the first four stewardship programs, we now have over 50 CRM’s. We are providing information to other states.
“It’s s Wyoming model that’s been a real success. That has been satisfying.”
Under Rolston’s leadership, the Ag Department developed an effective. Marketing program, which emphasized adding value to agricultural commodities and initiated an active livestock marketing program in Mexico.
The Department initiated the HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) food health and safety program in Wyoming “While the federal government was still talking about it. We sat down with the industry and the end users and basically developed our own guidelines.”
Wyoming now shares its program with the federal government and with other states.
On a national level, Rolston found time to chair the NASDA/Department of Interior Task Force and he served on the National Advisory Committee for Animal Damage Control.
He was a member of the negotiating teams during the Free Trade talks with both Canada and Mexico.
Recently, Governor Sullivan drew on Rolston’s skills, asking Don to chair the state committee dealing with Rangeland Reform ’94. Rolston believes the key to successful negotiating is “bringing the principle parties to the table to sit down and identify the problem. Talk about how you can move toward it and reach an agreement on the thing. It’s amazing how many times it will work.”
He is currently a member of UW’s College of Agriculture Advisory Board. Don serves on the State Nature Conservancy Board, n the Governor’s Cabinet and as Chairman of the State Compensation Commission.
Rolston is on the Wyoming Farm House Alumni Association Board and is a member of the National Western Club. He is an Outstanding Alumnus of Gamma Sigma Delta and Wyoming 4-H.
Rolston and his wife, Barbara, a Worland native, live in Cheyenne, where Don belongs to the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club.
Rolston shares a philosophy, which this year’s political hopefuls might well heed.
“If Wyoming is going to continue as a national model in agriculture, the key is to keep in touch with people. If you try and bully changes through, your program is dead!”
Bill Gentle believes that Don Rolston never represented himself as THE spokesman for the ag industry.
“Don was there in state government when a spokesman was needed, but he tried to stay with his perceived role of representing the interests of the ag people as well as he could.”
This award will be presented of Friday, Aug. 19 at the rodeo during state fair.