Every game day in Stillwater, Okla., a man wearing an Oklahoma State University shirt and Texas A&M cap graces the famous tailgating scene.
A Texas Aggie at heart, Chuck Coffey puts aside his A&M ties - if only for a few hours - to support his three children (Aaron, Seth and Sarah), all of who attend OSU.
Coffey's dual school dedication parallels a personal narrative that spans both sides of the Red River.
A fifth-generation rancher, Coffey traveled to College Station and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in range science from Texas A&M - finishing his education in 1985. He then taught agriculture at Murray State College in Tishomingo, Okla., eventually chairing the department, before joining the Noble Research Institute in 1993 as a pasture and range consultant.
Twenty years later, Coffey continues to invest his talents and skills in advancing agriculture and supporting his beloved family - even if it means wearing a little OSU orange every once in a while. Below, he details growing up in ag, his passion for supporting regional producers and his coworkers, and how one fateful horse ride changed his entire world.
Who inspired you to pursue a career in agriculture?
I grew up on a ranch in the hill country of Harper, Texas. I was pushed by my high school agriculture teacher, Clayton Massey. He was a hard-nosed man who made sure you were prepared for college. And, of course, agriculture was what he wanted us to pursue.
So you were involved in ag in high school?
At our high school, the judging team was more prestigious than the football team. I enjoyed the competition, and it turned out I was pretty good at it. I earned second high individual at the state competition in College Station my senior year. I was so close to winning that it still haunts me sometimes. (He laughs.)
Where did you meet your wife?
While in the Range Club at Texas A&M, my roommate needed a dominoes partner. My competition for the night would include my future wife, Ruth. We exchanged numbers, and the rest is history. We've been married for 27 years. We still play dominoes from time to time. To think I almost didn't go.
Did you always want to be a scientist?
I wanted to be so many things growing up - first a flight attendant, then a vet, then a social worker. Then I didn't have a clue, but I did enjoy my chemistry class. To me, a scientist was a person in a lab coat, geeky glasses and a funny haircut. I couldn't have been more wrong. Science is a dynamic career with dynamic people. I love what I do. I'm excited to see results and figure out what they mean, even if they don't always fit my hypothesis.
Now you're a father of three college students. How do you stay close?
I try to know when my kids are coming home from college so I can schedule "family activities" for them to do with me out on the ranch. The kids have gotten pretty smart and will show up unannounced to avoid the chores (he chuckles). I love spending time with them and accomplishing things together. When the work is done, we relax and cook-out under a shade tree.
What advice would you give those entering the agriculture field?
Go into it with eyes wide open. Follow your heart, and don't listen to those who say there is no money in it. Look for opportunities, and you will find them. I've heard people all my life say that it's a hard life and you will never finish. I've learned that staying busy keeps you young.
What is it like being a consultant?
A lot of people depend on the information that we give them, and I take that responsibility seriously. When it comes to doing my job, I don't have to know all the answers. I just have to know someone who does. My coworkers possess such a wealth of knowledge, and we work together to change lives.
What is your favorite part of being a consultant?
I love building lifelong relationships with our agricultural producers and watching them grow and succeed. And it's amazing to be able to offer our services to area farmers and ranchers, and not leave behind a bill. We do this because it's our mission.
What does it mean to you to work at the Noble Research Institute?
This is a completely unique place where it is hard to separate your friends from your coworkers. The passion for agriculture truly flows from the top down, and it rubs off on everyone.
What happened two summers ago?
I had a serious horseback riding accident. I was bucked so violently that it sheared my pelvis from my spine. I should be paralyzed. I went through several surgeries and numerous months of rehabilitation.
How did your coworkers respond to the accident?
I've never felt more loved than after that accident. While I went through a painful recovery process, my Noble Research Institute coworkers just surrounded me with care. They did everything. They brought me food. They helped out at the ranch. A team constructed a ramp for my wheelchair and even built a deck for me to sit out on the porch. I have the best job in the world with the best people in the world.