Legacy of Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr. lives on through research facility

By Carol Kinsley

Reminiscent of the Farm and Home Field Days of years ago, the dedication of the Thurman G. Adams Jr. Agricultural Research Farm in Georgetown was held Oct. 15 in "the grove" with representatives of the University of Delaware, farmers and politicians on hand.

The site was chosen, explained Mark Isaacs, director of the Carvel Research and Education Center located on the farm, because it was Adams' favorite spot, and fried chicken was served at the luncheon because it was his favorite meal.

"The legacy Adams left is very long," Isaacs said. Among the speakers were friends who highlighted some of the unique things Thurman Adams did.

Nancy Brickhouse, interim provost at the university, noted Adams had spent 37 years in the state senate where he worked to preserve farm heritage and strengthen the economy. "He was a giant in Delaware agriculture," Brickhouse said. "He believed in getting research-based information to consumers. He loved Delaware, its people and agriculture and the University of Delaware."

Mark Reiger, new dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the university, said he never met Adams but was grateful for the impact he had on Delaware. Graduating from the university in 1950, Adams was one of its most influential alumni, Reiger said. "His work at T. G. Adams & Sons was just the beginning. He spent most of his life in public service."

State Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee said the farm, 310 acres purchased in 1941, was called "the substation" because it was a subsection of the ag experiment station in Newark. To see a new facility built there was a dream that spanned decades. Adams said it was his No. 1 priority. The result is the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center which opened in 2006.

Kee recalled that Adams had told him how he happened to attend the University of Delaware. Adams was a senior in high school when George M. Worrilow, who would go on to become dean, came to the school to ask if there were any students interested in attending the university. Adams, suggested by the principal, thought it was impossible, but Worrilow promised he would get help with subjects he was weak in and, if he needed money, could get a job on the campus farm.

Isaacs said Adams wanted to make sure Delaware agriculture was the bet in the country. He added, "I have yet to see a substation like this one." The credit, he said, goes to Adams, the Delaware Senate and the Sussex County Council.

Adams understood the philosophy and mission of the land grant university, Isaacs continued.

"He would come to me, or to previous directors (of the farm) and ask 'What do you need?' And I would give him a list and then he'd go to Dover.

"Until his passing, I witnessed his support to the tune of $15 million to make the facility state of the art. One of the most important things Thurman would say is, 'Are we getting it done? Do you have what you need?'"

U.S. Congressman John Carney said he had been a close friend of Adams and worked with him when he was Lt. Governor. "This is a really happy day. I can't think of a more appropriate thing to be named for him."

Carney described how Dr. Robin Morgan had come to him in 2002 or 2003 and told him that a considerable sum had been raised to build the facility and that a large donor, former Gov. Carvel, was available, but that the building was not on the list of the university's priorities. It would be a shame to lose the donation because of protocol.

"I took the risk," Carney said. "I arranged a luncheon with Adams, State Senators Nancy Cook and Bob Venables and Dr. Morgan. I didn't tell Gov. Minner. It was an easy sell to convince the three senators that they needed to do this as soon as possible. (Carvel was then 92-years-old.)"

He was then able to tell the governor that these senators thought the building was a good idea. "Without Adams' support, this building might just now be under construction."

Morgan, who recently stepped down as dean of the College of Ag, said it was her predecessor, John Nye, who talked Carvel into making the pledge. She later explained that it had been very important to Adams that Carvel be able to see the building started, if not completed. On the day of the groundbreaking in 2004, Carvel's car was driven into the grove where he helped wield a specially made shovel with several blades as the official start of construction. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the building completed, but it does bear his name and that of his wife.

Members of Adams' family gathered as a sign and aerial photograph of the farm were unveiled. Daughter Lynn Kokjohn said her father "has been honored in many ways, but this (farm) was near and dear to him. We can't thank you enough."

During "open mike" time at the luncheon, which was held inside because of a strong wind and impending rain, Isaacs said he was sure that Adams had a hand in holding off the rain. Expensive equipment had been on display, out in the open, "I believe he said, 'Hold up. Let them get that equipment under cover.'"

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