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Former Extension Director David Foster remembered as fair, consummate professional

“He was always the ‘adult in the room,’ the consummate professional. In his witty and wise, yet humble way, he consistently led us to good decisions." — Ron Brown

By Mary Hightower
U of A System Division of Agriculture

April 14, 2023

Fast facts

  • Foster led effort to build a new extension service headquarters in Little Rock
  • Foster overhauled salary structures with an eye to fairness

(800 words)

(Newsrooms, with file art of Foster — )

FAIRFIELD BAY, Ark. — David Foster, director of the Cooperative Extension Service from 1991-2000, is being remembered as a visionary and consummate professional who helped lead the land-grant organization into the 21st century.

Foster passed away April 6. Obit information a memorial service is set for June 3, in Clinton, Arkansas.

Before he was hired in Arkansas in 1988 as head of the entomology department, the Kansas native worked in extension and research positions in Kentucky and Iowa. It wasn’t long before he was named associate director of extension and appointed director in 1991.

Former Cooperative Extension Service Director David Foster passed away April 6, 2023. Undated file photo. (U of A System Division of Agriculture photo) .

He left Arkansas in 2000 to become director of the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service, finally retiring in 2004.

Foster wanted the best for extension employees and set about restructuring salaries and policies as director in Arkansas.

“I wanted to be even-handed,” he said in a 2012 interview for the “Extension Cord,” a newsletter for extension retirees. “I didn’t favor one part of the organization over the other.”
It was a pivotal event.

“Dr. Foster is the first director I recall that treated women as equals,” said Judy Riley, a former White County extension staff chair and later associate district director for the Delta district. “This was especially evident in counties where women were often less mobile than men. The policy at the time prohibited agents moving up to staff chair in the county they where they currently worked. Then, he established an in-county promotion system.

“He gave women like me opportunities we never would have imagined. I'll always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me and so many others,” Riley said.

Tony Windham, director of the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service from 2009-2016, said Foster “gave me my first administration position as agricultural economics section leader.

“Dave Foster was one of those leaders who excelled at mentorship and provided whatever support or tools needed to allow employees to grow in their profession,” Windham said. “I’m grateful, not only for the opportunities he provided, but also for the example he set for us, and we are truly better for it.”

Tom Riley, who served as extension’s head of agriculture and natural resources and director of the LeadAR program, said Foster wasn’t afraid to tackle tough issues. “He led the extension service into environmental issues.

“Dave Foster expected our best, and performance garnered both his respect and greater challenges,” he said. “Because of him, we became a partner in environmental stewardship, resource conservation and water management for both quality and quantity. 

“Dr. David Foster has left Arkansas better” by his efforts, Riley said.

New HQ

The Little Rock State Office of the Cooperative Extension Service, which opened in 1996 at 2301 S. University, is a visible and working reminder of Foster’s commitment to this part of the land-grant mission in Arkansas. Along with creating a more equitable environment for employees, the building was among his proudest achievements.

The Cooperative Extension Service had seen a few addresses including an aging building that was later renovated to become the Bowen School of Law, and a metal building down by the Arkansas River.

As was Foster’s way, he gave credit where credit was due, noting the contributions of two former leaders of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, the University of Arkansas System and the division’s stakeholder relations director.

“Without the initial support of Vice President LaFerney, the full support of President Sugg, Vice President Shult, and especially Chuck Culver’s efforts, the new Extension headquarters wouldn’t have happened,” he said in the 2012 “Extension Cord” profile.

Bob Scott, current head of the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, said that “we continue to benefit from Dr. Foster’s legacy, especially in the form of the building that has been our home for nearly three decades. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Deacue Fields, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System, said “we are very grateful for his many contributions to the extension service in Arkansas during his tenure. We were made stronger as an organization by his vision. This is a loss that we will all feel.”

The adult in the room
“I first met Dave more than 20 years ago and memory tells me that our relationship quickly went from initial acquaintance to respect to admiration to trusted friend,” said Ron Brown, executive director of the Association of Southern Region Extension Directors.

“Dave was the elected leader in our association of Extension Directors for one year but he was the respected leader every year,” Brown said. “He was always the ‘adult in the room,’ the consummate professional. In his witty and wise, yet humble way, he consistently led us to good decisions.

“He has blessed many and will be missed greatly,” he said.

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow us on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. The Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service.

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media contact: Mary Hightower