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home articles Producer Feature Stories |

The Best Job in the World

published: July 15th 2021
by: Sharla Ishmael
source: Southern Livestock Standard


Dr. Joe Paschal has served county Extension agents and beef cattle producers for 35 years as an Extension livestock specialist, and he wouldn’t trade his job for any other.


Those who have heard Dr. Joe Paschal give one of the thousands of beef cattle presentations he has given during the last 35 years would be surprised to know there was a time, when he was very young, when this future Extension livestock specialist didn’t want anything to do with agriculture.


            Growing up in South-Central Texas, he had had enough it – or so he thought. After graduating from high school, Paschal enrolled in Del Mar College, a community college in Corpus Christi. Then he started considering how he was going to make a living and made a fateful phone call to Texas A&M University.


            “I called up there and talked to Dr. Harold Franke and they sent me an application,” Paschal explains. The first question he asked is if I had any 4-H or FFA experience. I really hadn’t. So, he put me in Dr. Doug Wythe’s animal science 107/108 class, and that's probably the best thing that ever happened to me at that point in time. Dr. Wythe was gruff and acted like he was always mad at you.


            “But he really was a very knowledgeable person and a good teacher. He could really connect with students; you just had to be willing to meet him halfway. And I really got to appreciate him later when I was in graduate school,” he adds.


            Paschal says he “frogged” into the Corp of Cadets as a junior and took all of the production, range management and forage courses he could. Many Texas A&M animal science department legends were on faculty at the time and served as mentors to him in addition to Franke and Wythe, including O.D. Butler, Frank Litterst, Gene King, Jim Sanders, Tony Sorenson, Howard Hesby and more. He credits these professors for helping him believe in himself.


            “I had Dr. Gary Smith for meats 307,” Paschal recalls. “Yeah, I flunked the first test in that class. He calls me down to the old animal industries building where he had a little cubbyhole back there and there was sort of a cloud of cigarette smoke in his office. He calls me in and says, ‘You know, Joe, I really think you can make an A in this class.’


            “And I told him, you know that I flunked the first test, and you think I can make an A?  And so the second test, I made a B. Then I think the last two tests I probably made As. I made an A on the final and got that A in his class. All those guys had ways that they could connect with students and make them want to do better than they thought they could do,” he explains.


            Along the way, Paschal met Dr. Randall Grooms, who was an Extension livestock specialist based in Overton. Grooms left an impression on the young animal science student, and he put in the back of his mind that being an Extension specialist might be a neat deal. But if he was going to pursue that route, he would need to go to grad school first – and he wasn’t sure his GPA would get him in.


            Turns out it was enough and Paschal got a plum assignment as graduate student under Mr. Frank Litterst. In December 1977, he helped move the professor into an office in the new home of the animal science department – the Kleberg building. In the summers, he worked at the beef cattle center. By 1979, Paschal finished his coursework and research, but hadn’t yet written his master’s thesis. However, his wife, Vickey, was pregnant with their first child and he felt more urgency to find a job than to finish that thesis.


            An opening came up with the American-International Charolais Association headquarters in Houston and Paschal jumped at it. He worked for Charolais as their director of breed improvement and foreign marketing for about two and a half years before the association decided to move the office to Kansas City. Paschal didn’t want to move. Once again, his Texas A&M connections proved valuable.


            “I was in Louisville at the national Charolais show, and I got a call from Dr. Jim Sanders. He had heard I was interested in going back to A&M to finish my master's degree and work on a PhD, and he offered to give me an assistantship. He said I could teach animal science 306 and he’d help me find a research project.’


            “I told him I would be there in January. I worked for Dr. Sanders as a graduate student until about the summer of ’86. Also, Dr. Frankie retired, and they needed somebody to teach livestock marketing, so Dr. Gene King put me in charge of that,” Paschal says. “When I was finishing up that September, I started looking for jobs again. An Extension livestock specialist position was open in Fort Stockton. Now, I had to look up Fort Stockton on a map, because I had never been west of a line from about Abilene to Uvalde. Mr. Litterst told me all about the people he knew in the area and those who worked there, so I applied for the job.”


            Paschal’s wife, Vickey, who was also a South Texan, went with him to Fort Stockton on a cold, December trip. They stopped in Marathon and Vickey struck up a conversation with a friendly local woman.


            “This lady says to her, ‘Where are y'all going, honey?’  


            And my wife says, ‘Well, my husband's got a job interview in Fort Stockton.’


            And this lady goes, ‘Oh my God, honey – just stay here and let him go on with it.’ So that really, really biased her against Fort Stockton,” he recalls with a hearty chuckle.


            Fast forward a couple years, and Paschal had grown to really like the area and his job. They had a nice house, two kids and he was enjoying life. Vickey, however, missed home. Another job came open in Corpus Christi, but he had not applied for it or mentioned it to his wife.


            “We were having some sort of a party at our house, and the ag economist asked my wife, ‘Hey, has Joe applied for that job in Corpus yet?’ And I was just standing there. She looked at me like I was in really bad trouble. And in that voice that women sometimes use, she kind of told me she thought I should apply for that job.”


            In order to get the job, Paschal had to find a replacement to come to Fort Stockton. He happened to know a fellow, Dr. Rick Machen, who was in Florida at the time. Machen agreed to come to Far West Texas and the Paschals have been back home in Corpus Christi for 33 years. While he was in Fort Stockton though, he says the older Extension specialists and county agents in that area really taught him how to be good at the job – and how to help the county agents be good at their jobs. That philosophy followed him to South Texas.


            “I'm sure my department head would like for me to do more research and generate more funds, but my main purpose has always been to work with county extension agents and with producers,” he explains. “County agents have to be generalists and know at least a little bit about a everything from livestock to vegetable gardens to pesticide laws and regulations, wildlife, grapes, olives, you name it. Each of them probably has in-depth knowledge of a few topics, but I can help them with in-depth training to develop county programs, result demonstrations, working with committees, etc.


            “My job is to think outside the box first off, in terms of production, what's going on with the now and what’s coming down the pike, and just make sure I constantly provide them with any new information,” Paschal says. “When they have county programs, I go to those programs and it’s about more than just giving a talk. I try to come a bit early, visit with people, listen to the other presenters and hang around for a while in case people have questions. There is no subsitute for talking with producers face-to-face when they are really interested in a topic. 


            Kara Matheney is the Washington County Extension agent from Brenham who has worked with him for about 12 years and says he is the No. 1 champion of county agents and county programming in the state of Texas.


            “Dr. Paschal is one of a kind,” she says. “They just don’t make them like him anymore. He truly believes in what we do and has a fundamental understanding of the purpose of Extension to bring the university to the county level. He is all about empowering county agents to be the authority in their county and support their professional development – whatever that looks like. In all the years I have worked with him, I don’t think he has ever said no to being part of a program when I have called upon him. He just really values being able to help people.”


            Jay Gray, general manager of Graham Land and Cattle in Gonzales, met Paschal when they were both students at A&M.


            “I have kept up with him in our respective early working careers and for almost 35 years, have been close friends,” Gray says. “Our paths cross at least monthly at some Extension program at the county level. Joe knows cows and the beef cattle industry is extremely fortunate to have such a knowledgeable and dedicated person to help. He has also helped the feed lot industry to progress. Just one example is the part he played in developing the Ranch to Rail program in the late ’80s that returned a trove of knowledge to the South Texas beef industry.”


            When producers call Paschal directly with a question or need help solving a problem, he makes sure to keep their county agent in the loop whether it’s a phone call or an email. It’s something the old-timers out in Fort Stockton taught him. In essence, the job is about people skills as much as it is about technical knowledge. However, being affiliated with Texas A&M and having that technical knowledge has also given him many opportunities to go abroad – whether to judge or show or give a presentation in 26 different countries. He doesn’t get paid to do that but does enjoy it. He has also worked closely with a number of breed associations and other groups – basically anybody who needs his expertise.


            “I love my job,” he says with enthusiasm. “I love working with county extension agents. I love working with producers. What really drives me in my job is when I walk in there and those county agents are glad to see me, and the producers have lots of questions and they walk away satisfied. I feel like I've earned my paycheck. I’ve worked for the Extension system for almost 40 years, and even though there's been some changes and some of the things I don't agree with or don't like, it's still been the best job in the world.


             “I work for and with the greatest people in the world. I work for the people of Texas and the county extension agents. And I can't imagine two groups of people I would rather work for more than those two.”



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