Kenton not a typical college senior
At age 77, after service in the Navy, college, marriage, a lifetime of work in ag sales and eight years in the Delaware House of Representatives, how would you choose to spend your time?
If you’re Harvey Kenton, you go back to school, to study, above all things, agriculture.
In a telephone interview, Kenton explained that while he has retired from the legislature, he still has things he is committed to and wants to stay involved in.
“Once you’re a politician, you’re always committed to good causes for the people you represented,” he said.
But why go back to school?
“I grew up helping on one neighbor’s big vegetable farm and another neighbor’s dairy,” Kenton said. “I milked cows, put hay in the barn, went out in the field, stacked hay bales, put them on the elevator that lifted them into the barn, then stacked them. I cut pulpwood in the summer when we were through cultivating corn. I drove pea and bean viners. I picked cucumbers all while growing up.”
After high school, Kenton served in the U.S. Navy from 1959 through 1962, then attended Wesley College, majoring in education. Fifty-five years ago, he married Bonnie Jean Warnick.
“I never went back and got my final degree,” he lamented. “I want a degree in agriculture before I die, hopefully. That’s my goal.”
Kenton worked for DuPont in Seaford, for United Parcel Service, then Home Beneficial Life Insurance before joining Milford Fertilizer Company in 1977. He worked there until 1993, when he joined the Marvel Agency.
“I worked in ag sales and credit for Milford Fertilizer most of my life. I grew up working on farms. I know the practical side of vegetable production, corn, wheat, barley, soy. I know chisel plow vs. moldboard,” Kenton continued.
For 28 years, Kenton attended the National FFA convention and with five others ran the public speaking portion of the Career Development Events.
“I went to Louisville, Indianapolis, or Kansas City. I donated my time. They would have paid for travel and hotel, but I usually took care of my own airfare,” he said.
“I’ve seen 650,000 students participating in FFA. If there are that many people hungry for agriculture, I want to learn the book side, too.”
Kenton said he’s not planning on using the degree for another job.
However, with three of his grandchildren in college, his drive is an incentive for them to get good grades “because Pop-Pop is.”
He is taking two classes a semester and so far has an A in all his classes.
There’s an average of 18 students in each class, “all hungry to make a living in some form of agriculture,” Kenton noted. “They’re all majoring in production agriculture and agribusiness management.”
Kenton is studying at Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown, where he can get an associate’s degree. “I could transfer to Del State or University of Delaware if I wanted more,” he said. His credits from Wesley College are not transferrable, he explained, since they are more than 50 years old and in a different field. When he got out his checkbook to pay for his first courses, he learned that, with certain restrictions, Delaware residents who are age 60 or older may enroll tuition free in any credit course.
“I am learning so much,” Kenton said. “I asked permission to address one class. I told them how proud I was of them as young adults venturing into agriculture, whether for sales, biotech, crop management, helping manage their family’s farm, greenhouse, landscaping… There are so many aspects.”
The professors are at least 10 years younger than he is. “The Del-Tech professors have been fantastic. They have been wonderful to me,” he said.
“I’m the first one at class and the last to leave,” Kenton said. “I thoroughly enjoy it. I love doing research, but I’m not a computer person. The kids can Google and find almost anything.
“I’m learning about new cultural practices, new herbicides and pesticides and new plant varieties,” he said.
Kenton has experienced some of those innovations first hand. When he was with Milford Fertilizer, they sent him to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas where a lot of research was being done with phosphoric and sulfuric acids mixed in compressed gas form and injected into the soil as a fertilizer. “It worked great there,” he said, where the red/orange soil had a natural pH of 7. “It’s hard to grow anything at 7. You’ve got to lower the pH so natural elements can be absorbed. They injected the acids next to the plants, which lowered the pH real quick. It made the crops grow. They grew carrots the size of a football.
“We were interested in trying these acids in Delaware, but our soils are naturally a pH of about 5.8. More acidity would drop the pH drop too low.
“I also saw the safety side. Their farm labor walked across the border. I saw hoses blow off under pressure. The acid burned, ate flesh, burned eyes… I told my boss we could not afford the liability.
“He said, ‘That’s why we sent you down there.’ We had 40 salesmen. I don’t know why he sent me, but he knew I’d tell the truth.”
A couple of years ago, Kenton watch planting at a Dupont/Pioneer corn variety research and development center in Puerto Rico, where they can grow three crops of corn back to back in one year. He learned about genetic engineering and cross breeding for stalks, fewer diseases, better yield, standability and drought tolerance.
“I enjoyed all the research,” he said. “It’s helping in classes. I’m careful not to speak too much. I want the other students to speak. The professor knows I know, but we respect each other. I keep my mouth shut.
“They call me ‘Mr. Harvey,” Kenton said of his classmates. In one class, when the professor asks a question, a boy in the back, after a period of silence will suggest: ‘Ask Mr. Harvey. He knows.’”
Kenton said, “I don’t know whether to feel good or intimidated!”
He added, “I love to get there early and pick their brains. I ask why they chose ag and what their parents do.
“Last year several graduated and asked me for reference letters for a job. I was thrilled to be able to do that.”
Kenton said he wants to stay connected with agriculture. “I love ag — the people, the farmers — the 2 percent of people feeding 100 percent of the world,” he said. “I want to enjoy life a little. I don’t want stay home and do nothing.”
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