FRANKFORT—The College of Agriculture, Food Science, and Sustainable Systems (CAFSSS) at Kentucky State University recently announced that the second-annual Harold R. Benson Agricultural Luncheon is slated for Tuesday, May 1, 2018.

The luncheon is the namesake of pioneering 1890 land-grant administrator and legendary Kentucky State University personality, Dr. Harold R. Benson. Yesterday, Nov. 30, marked one year since his passing.

“Dr. Benson cared deeply about those with whom he worked and especially about the students we serve,” Dr. Kirk W. Pomper, director of Kentucky State’s land-grant programs, said. “The luncheon is our opportunity to honor our graduating students while keeping the legacy of Dr. Benson alive.”

Born on March 31, 1944, to the late Reverend Norman Benson Jr., who was a well-known master sheetrock finisher, and the former Lilia Mae Gissentanner, Benson was reared with 10 siblings on a modest farm in Bamberg County, South Carolina.

A self-described “young man who grew up in the sands of the low-land of South Carolina that picked cotton, picked watermelon, picked cantaloupe,” Benson admitted that he was “poor as dirt.”

But he still knew that he was somebody. In his youth, he scathed death several times. At age six, he survived being struck by a car. A handful of weeks later, he survived an accident involving a trailer attached to a tractor. Later, he survived a mowing accident. And later, still, he survived an accident involving an ax.

Realizing early that one can never give up, he traveled a somewhat unconventional path back to a career in agriculture. A 1966 graduate of the now historically-black Morris College in Sumter, South Carolina, Benson put his bachelor’s degree in mathematics to work as a teacher in a high school with football and basketball coaching duties; then at IBM, where he worked as a computer programmer with the Federal System Division. Benson went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling and doctoral degree in extension education, both from The Ohio State University.

His 36-year career as the longest-tenured land-grant administrator began at Kentucky State on September 22, 1975, with a desk in a supply closet. Added to these duties was direction of the extension program from 1975 to 2011, and the research program from 1985 to 2011.  Despite moving nine times, the once-dormant land-grant program was resurrected under his leadership. Benson also created the aquaculture research program, established the university’s 300-acre research and demonstration farm, worked to renovate the historic Atwood building into the Atwood Research Facility, and directed efforts to build and design the Cooperative Extension Building. In the process of doing so, he revolutionized the agriculture research and education programs at Kentucky State University.