AMES, Iowa – Although Dr. Leo Timms’ expertise is dairy, his career has really been about people.
    “As I look at my job, it was about the ability to serve people, interact with people, help people, and develop those relationships and friendships,” Timms said. “If I think I achieved that – and I’m not the one to say I did, but I feel I did – and never lost sight of that, then that’s my achievements.”
    Timms retired from Iowa State University in October 2019 after starting his career in 1984. Although the majority of his time was spent as an extension dairy specialist, Timms also taught at the university in both the department of animal science and the veterinary college.
    “My uniqueness is I was doing stuff with processors and consumers, primarily education about practices we did on the farm,” Timms said. “Certainly, farmers and agribusinesses were part of my classroom, too.”
    Timms, who is originally from northeast Pennsylvania, became interested in dairy at the age of 10 after his older sister married a dairy farmer.
    “I wasn’t raised on the farm,” he said. “That gave me interesting insight because even now we have a lot of people who want to get into agriculture and sometimes say, ‘Well I didn’t come from a farm, so how do I do it?’”
    Timms often encouraged people to follow their dairy dreams even if their background was unlike any others.
    “Sometimes people think if they’re not born and bred into it, there are no opportunities,” he said. “If you have a passion and a willingness to learn, you can do anything you want. In agriculture, we need tremendously good people.”
    Teaching happened in many places for Timms.
    “I think extension can be teaching in a classroom, in the field or whatever,” he said. “To me, it was making science and facts simple, understandable, economical and fun. Helping people understand things and giving them the tools to make decisions for their business, families or whatever.”
    There is no doubt things have changed since Timms started his career over 35 years ago.  At that time, the Apple IIe was the latest computer, and there were no cellphones.
    “How we communicate and get information has changed, but we’re still doing the same things – the fundamentals,” Timms said.
    Likewise, dairy has also changed.
    “Dairy has never been more diverse,” Timms said. “I think that’s exciting and challenging, but it’s also daunting because you have from low input to high input, from low capital and a lot of labor to high capital investment, labor, immigration, technology. But the overall arching things we’re trying to achieve are the same – profitability, animal health and wellbeing, good stewards of the environment.”
    In the last 20 years, Timms said agriculture has seen another shift.
    “The amount of people outside of agriculture who challenge us about the quality and safety of our products, practices we use on our farms in terms of how we treat the animals, the environment and the people we work with has grown,” he said.
    Because of this, Timms took on the role of spokesperson for the university, explaining the basics of how dairy farmers care for their cows and the environment, among other topics.
    “I was being exposed to dietitians, grocery case managers and consumers,” Timms said. “At the end of my career, I still had a large extension appointment, but the people I was addressing was very different and yet needed.”
    Whether out on the road to visit a dairy or in the classroom teaching a class, Timms enjoyed all aspects of his job.
    “I had an amazingly fun job,” Timms said. “On one hand I had a lot of things to do, but on the other hand I had a lot of breadth and diversity from the best students and faculty to being able to go to the field and have excellent colleagues, friends, farmers and people.”
    Although Timms is retired, he likes to say redirected. While he helps with a dairy-related topic if asked, he is focused on other areas of his life. Timms is active in two senior singing groups.
    “I’m having a blast,” he said. “I gave up music and singing years ago because with traveling so much I did not have a fixed schedule to go to practice.”
    He also volunteers for three other organizations. The first is visiting people who are receiving hospice care. The second is facilitating a bottle and cans recycling center to raise money for high school groups. The third is helping at a Boys and Girls Club. Timms had attended one in his youth and wants to give back to an organization that helped him.
    “I start every week with an open slate yet by the end of the week everything fills up,” Timms said. “But, it all still stems around relationships with people and service.”
    It is the people who Timms said have made his dairy career vibrant and rewarding.
    “I think if I said I was successful in my career, it’s probably because I surrounded myself with incredibly good people, including good students who were doing the work when I was on the road, and my colleagues in extension or the people in the field and the farmers,” Timms said.