The banquet took place in the Wilson County Expo Center at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center in Lebanon. Area FFA and 4-H members served as ushers for the evening.
Each of the four individuals had a friend or family member speak for them at the induction ceremony.
Ralph McKee Jr. spoke for his father, who died in 1989.
“I thought about what I’d say about dad tonight,” said McKee Jr. “And as I thought about the years of service, dad loved to serve. He loved to make things better. He loved to take rural parts of the county and improve those things.”
Ralph McKee Sr. was born April 12, 1917 to Tom and Byrdie Knox McKee in Wilson County.
In the early 1950s, McKee and his wife bought his parent’s family farm in Wilson County where he and his brother continued to farm the land and do custom farm work in the community and in nearby communities. At 44, he suffered a catastrophic illness, which ended his farm activities. The land was then used for cattle and hogs.
In the 1970s, McKee Jr. began an active dairy farm, and McKee Sr. began a new career as the first executive director of the Wilson County Water and Waste Water Authority, where he served until his retirement.
McKee Sr. was a member of the Wilson County commission for 27 years serving on various committees and boards, which included the planning and construction of the current courthouse, road projects and securing funds to extend water lines into rural areas with little or no access to public water.
He was a leader of the Agricultural Committee of the County Court, which was instrumental in securing land and funds for the James Ward Agricultural Center.
“I asked dad, before he passed away, what was the – out of all the years of service for the county and all the commissions and all the time that he spent – what was the thing that he was most proud of being a part of,” said McKee Jr. “He did a lot of things, served on a lot of committees. He didn’t hesitate one bit. He said, ‘If I’ve got to pick one thing that I am most proud of being apart of, it is in acquiring land for the Wilson County Fair. That is an agricultural history that will go on generation after generation; after you’re gone, after I’m gone, maybe even after your grandchildren are gone.’”
Next to be inducted was Noel Yelton, who died in 1983. Bill Coley, a close family friend, spoke via video for Yelton.
“During my reflections and preparations for this call, I was reminded that there were many things I experienced for Noel Yelton during the 1970s, that I likely would not have experienced without him,” said Coley.
Coley’s father got him a job on Yelton’s farm when he was a freshman in high school.
“My working relationship with Noel lasted throughout my high school years and during summers while I was in college, and was one of the most influential experiences of my life,” said Coley. “If I had not worked for Noel Yelton, I might never have been stung by a wasp on the top of a tobacco barn. I likely would not know what it feels like to have tobacco gum all over my hands and arms and clothes. I might not have experienced being soaking wet with dew by 8:30 in the morning while spraying the tobacco.”
Coley went on to credit Yelton for almost everything he learned about agriculture during his life.
In 1961, Yelton was named Wilson County’s Outstanding Young Farmer by the Lebanon Jaycees, and it 1978, Yelton was named Wilson County Soil Conservation District’s Outstanding Conservation Farmer of the Year.
“Noel was an outstanding farmer, mentor, family man and citizen,” said Coley. “He is well-deserving of this recognition. I am fortunate to have spent the formative years of my life with Noel and his family and I am very pleased to be a part of this recognition.”
Dr. Coleman Kinslow was the next to receive recognition, and longtime friend, Jack Pratt Jr. talked about his relationship with Kinslow and the work Kinslow did in the community.
He first described the first time he met Kinslow in 1980 when his mother told him to go open the gate for the veterinarian to get in when a cow was giving birth.
“In about 18 minutes and 15 seconds, he came storming down Trousdale Ferry Pike with a four-wheel drive truck and it stopped, made a right-hand turn, apparently on two wheels, came flying through that gate I had open,” said Pratt. “As I was walking up to that truck the door came flying open, this big hand came out and grabbed me by the coveralls, I had and said, ‘Come on up in here, bulldog.’ The next words out of this man’s mouth were one of the biggest reliefs of my life. He said, ‘You tell me where momma and that cow is,’ cause then I knew it was the veterinarian Dr. Kinslow, and my face and picture wasn’t going to be on one of those milk cartons.”
Pratt went on to talk about the lifelong friendship he had with Kinslow and described him as one of the most authentic men he ever met.
“I’ve had opportunities. I’ve met senators in my life, state reps, mayors, U.S. congressmen. I’ve had the privilege of meeting a couple U.S. presidents,” said Pratt. “People of high distinction, you get what I’m saying? They’re all honorable, whether they’re Republican, Democrat, just about all of them I’ve met have been honorable. But I’ll guarantee this, when I looked them in the eye and I shook their hand, there’s not one of them who has the amount and the measure of authenticity that my friend Dr. Phillip Kinslow has.”
The last honoree of the night was Dr. Lanas Smith, whose friend Dr. Del Miles spoke for him.
Smith was raised on his family’s farm on Cainsville Road between Lebanon and Norene where his mother lives and his oldest brother, Quintin, continues to farm.
He graduated from Lebanon High School in 1976. While there, he served as President of the Wilson County 4-H Club and was an officer in the Lebanon FFA Chapter. He got his state FFA degree and later his American Farmer degree.
In 1979, Smith graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in animal science and a minor in agricultural education. He won numerous individual and team awards as a member of the Livestock Judging Team and served as president of the Block and Bridle Club.
In fall 1979, Smith got a teaching fellowship to the University of Kentucky where he taught animal production and evaluation classes and coached the collegiate Livestock Judging Team. He got his master’s degree in animal sciences in 1983 and his doctorate in ruminant nutrition in 1986.
Smith moved to Colorado in 1996, where he and his family live on thief horse and cattle farm outside of Bolder.
Smith said he believes in the greatness of America’s farmers and agricultural communities. He also believes in supporting our youth and providing them access to knowledge, teaching them values and instilling a strong work ethic through example.
“I’ve always worked hard, put in long days, literally traveled millions of miles and even had most of our family vacations scheduled around feedlot visits along the way,” said Smith. “But, as I look back it was all easy compared to the work in that old tobacco patch back home.”