Keith Williams caught my attention with an article featuring Leonard Jordan. A Black man who grew up in Tennessee, Leonard cut his teeth in soil conservation in Indiana. Before retiring from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, he led NRCS for two years as acting chief.
In the early 1980s, as a new field editor, I spent time with Leonard visiting farmers. We spent one early December day dodging cars on snowy, hilly roads near Madison, Ind. We also spent a hot, summer day on backroads in Dearborn County. Each time, Leonard couldn’t wait to introduce me to farmers. He wanted me to share their stories.
But it’s more than farmers I remember. One trip happened after I had spent a long evening at my county fair. As president of the fledgling 4-H council, I was trying to enforce rules that entrenched fair board members didn’t want enforced.
Leonard had his own problems, but he listened patiently and helped me right my ship. We were meant to ride together that day.
Keep that in mind as Williams, leader of an NRCS planning team in southwest Indiana, and also a Black man, tells Leonard’s story:
“Even though Leonard achieved more than he ever expected, he remained humble and appreciative of opportunities he received throughout his 40-year career, especially his beginnings in Indiana.
“After graduating from Tennessee State University, his first jobs in Indiana included technician positions for Vanderburgh and Posey counties. He eventually accepted his first district conservationist position in southeast Indiana.
“He was the first Black employee to hold a DC position in that county. When he arrived, he was welcomed by his area conservationist, who assisted him in accommodations, including helping him find a home.
“Unfortunately, not everyone was so welcoming. There were some that chose to ignore or not do business with him; yet others threatened and even committed vandalism to his car. Finally, the Indiana state and local police departments were involved, and things settled down for a while.
“Yet through all of that, he never let these incidents distract him from his commitment to his plan of having a long career in conservation. He would not be triggered by negativity and instead focused on changing hearts and winning over the very people that did not want to see him succeed.”
Drive and heart
Williams himself came to Indiana recently because Jerry Raynor, Indiana state conservationist, sought talented people, especially minorities, who could contribute to conservation in Indiana. Raynor, also a Black man, was delighted when Williams came aboard.
I’ve now spent time with all three: Leonard Jordan, Keith Williams and Jerry Raynor. What stands out isn’t the color of their skin. It’s their drive and heart. They care about conservation and the people they serve.
Indiana agriculture needs all the people with drive and heart it can get. Thanks for being here, Jerry and Keith, and thanks Keith, for bringing back memories of Leonard Jordan, someone Hoosiers proudly claim as a favorite son.
Keith Williams contributed to this story.