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W. Doyle Graves

By Chris Guthrie

According to Dr. W.O. Trogden, W. Doyle Graves was one of the best teachers at Tarleton during the twenty years that he worked as a professor of poultry production (1946-1966). This assessment only scratches the surface of Grave’s contribution to Tarleton. A skilled raconteur, world traveler, civic leader, and tireless advocate of Tarleton, Graves left an indelible mark on this university and on the generations of students that passed through his classroom.

Born in Valley Grove, Texas, on June 14, 1901, the son of William Thomas and Mary Beatrice (Roberts), Graves attended public schools in his hometown before entering Tarleton Academy in 1919. He graduated in 1921 and went to Texas A&M, where he completed two years towards his bachelor’s degree in agriculture by 1923. He then went to Texas A&M as a full-time student, returning only on a part-time basis during the summers until he finally earned his B.S. degree in 1931. He received a M.S. degree from A&M in 1939 and took several graduate courses at the University of Colorado.

After completing his first two years at Texas A&M in 1923, Graves accepted the triple position of superintendent, teacher, and coach in the Bluff Dale School, a job he held for seven years. He married the former Jane B. Turner of Bluff Dale in 1925. The couple would have three sons during their sixty-three years of marriage.

The young couple left Bluff Dale in 1930 when Graves accepted a new job as a high school vocational agriculture teacher in Comyn, Texas. They moved again in 1937, this time when Graves accepted another job as a vocational agriculture teacher (and later as principal) at Breckenridge High School. Graves would remain at Breckenridge until 1946, when he came to Stephenville to teach and head the Poultry Department at Tarleton.

At Tarleton, Graves’ years of experience as a public school teacher served him well. He quickly became well known as an outstanding classroom performer who seasoned his lectures with colorful personal anecdotes presented in the masterful style of a natural storyteller. According to Dr. Trogden, Graves had his students “eating out of his hands” as a result of his powerful classroom presence and charismatic teaching style. Graves also worked with his students outside of the classroom. He acted as faculty sponsor of the Collegiate FFA organization on campus for twenty years. In this capacity, he not only helped plan and organize this group’s yearly activities but also toured area high schools and stock contests as a speaker and judge in order to promote Tarleton and its agriculture program. He also participated in other student activities, not directly related to agriculture, whenever he could. During Homecoming of 1959, for example, he gave an “inspiring speech” to student revelers before starting the annual drum beating ceremony.

While at Tarleton, Graves became known as one of the foremost authorities on poultry production in Texas. In August of 1958, he was inducted as a honorary lifetime member of the Texas Poultry Improvement Association. In presenting Graves with this award, the association stated that his work at Tarleton had “contributed largely to Stephenville’s reputation as one of the leading poultry centers in Texas.”

Additional recognition came in the fall of 1958 when former System chancellor Dr. D.W. Williams named Graves to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored Texas A&M University Team which was stationed at Agricultural University in Peradeniya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). His duties as a team member in Ceylon consisted of teaching a class in poultry husbandry and creating a poultry laboratory at the university. Graves had never traveled abroad before and therefore experienced a degree of culture shock and homesickness after arriving in Ceylon in December 1958. He would later comment to his friend and colleague Joe Autry:

“My work here is not so heavy, I would say about one-tenth compared to [Tarleton], but just give me Erath County and my Tarleton friends and I’m ready to trade.”

Once at Agricultural University in Ceylon, Graves gave a one-hour lecture and conducted a two-hour lab every Wednesday and spent the remainder of his time touring various poultry projects throughout the small island country. Once, he visited a poultry farm located in the middle of fifty acres of jungle. The man who owned the farm also raised hunting dogs to protect his chickens from wild animals and thieves. He invited Graves to hunt on his farm, claiming that the nearby jungle contained an abundance of partridges, monkeys, leopards, wild boar, deer, and other game. But he warned that they could only hunt during daylight hours because “at night the python snakes will catch the dogs.” Graves declined the offer.

Graves believed that his biggest accomplishment in Ceylon was the fact that he made some progress towards overcoming certain religious laws that hampered poultry production. Traditionally, Ceylonese farmers had left infertile eggs with a laying chicken because of the Buddhist tenet that prohibited the destruction of any form of life. Graves managed to convince some of them that the elimination of infertile eggs did not represent the destruction of life, thereby eliminating the inefficient practice of keeping eggs that would never hatch in hens’ nests.

Graves left Ceylon in April 1959. On his way home, he took the opportunity to see other parts of the world that had always interested him. He visited Beruit, Jerusalem, Rome, Paris, and London before returning to Texas. A year later, in 1960, one of Graves’ former students in Ceylon, Richard Fernando, came to Texas to continue his studies with his ex-teacher. Fernando stayed with Graves in Stephenville for a month, observing the operation of area poultry farms and processing plants as well as taking classes from his mentor. He went to Texas A&M for further class work and then visited Japan for two weeks to study a new poultry testing program that had recently been developed there. Fernando returned to Ceylon towards the end of 1960 and assumed the position of chief assistant in the poultry department at Agricultural University. He vowed that he would “carry on the program in poultry started last year by Professor Graves,” hence assuring that Graves’ knowledge and expertise would continue to benefit Ceylon for years to come.

Four years after his successful return from Ceylon, Graves received an invitation from USAID yo teach and serve as a poultry specialist at the University of Pakistan in Mymensingh, East Pakistan (now Bangledesh). Graves accepted the invitation and traveled to East Pakistan with his wife and youngest son (his family had stayed in the United States when he made his trio to Ceylon). He stayed in Mymensingh for two years, working to improve poultry and egg production. During this period, he used fertilized eggs from Erath Egg Farm to help start a local breed of white leghorn chickens which produced more and larger eggs than the breeds traditionally raised by Pakistani farmers (which, according to Graves, had only produced “small, bird like eggs).

Graves retired from teaching in 1966, a year after he returned from East Pakistan. But he did not leave Tarleton. Before the ink on his retirement papers even dried, the newly formed Tarleton Ex-Students Association (the forerunner of today’s Alumni Association) convinced him to serve as executive secretary of the organization on a part-time basis. Graves confronted his new job with his usual enthusiasm. He outlined his goals for the organization shortly after assuming his new office: (1) to keep alumni authoritatively informed about the college; (2) to cultivate worthy prospective students; (3) to keep the name of Tarleton before the public in the club area and to build good will for Tarleton; (4) to aid the ex-student office in the ever-present, never ending task of learning new addresses and achievements of alumni; (5) to increase participation of ex-students and friends in the student loan fund; and (6) to support the general program of the Ex-Students Association and its yearly objectives, and to increase attendance on special occasions and Homecoming days; and (7) to organize Tarleton clubs throughout the state.

Graves was very successful in meeting these goals and the Ex-Students Association prospered under his leadership. Within four years of accepting the position of executive secretary, he (with the help office secretary, Stella Maguire) had increased membership in the organization almost 500 percent, from 77 to 369 active members. Annual donations rose from $722 to $1,770 and lifetime memberships had grown from 29 to 71. By the time he stepped down as executive secretary in the spring of 1970, the Tarleton Ex-Students Association had grown to such an extent that it required a full-time director (J. Louis Evans, who had also directed public relations and developmental operations). In recognition for his years of devoted service to Tarleton in all his various capacities, Graves received the Tarleton Agricultural Appreciation Award in 1977, the “Honorary Lone Star Farmer” award from the FFA, and the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Alumni Association in 1980.

In addition to his twenty plus years of service to Tarleton, Graves served the Stephenville community with equal distinction. He served as a deacon in the Baptist Church for sixty-five years, taught Sunday School for over forty years, and acted as Sunday School Superintendent for the First Baptist Church in Bluff Dale for twenty years. He was a member of the Rotary Club for over fifty years and served as president of both the Breckinridge and Stephenville clubs at different times during his career. Graves also gave over fifty years of service to the Boy Scouts. He was the fifth Cub Scout Master in the state of Texas, an inductee into the Order of the Arrow, and a member of Alpha Phi Omega, the scout-affiliated national service fraternity. During his long association with the Boy Scouts, he helped organize more than sixteen scout troops got the Comanche Trail Council and helped to found the first African American troop in Stephenville. The Comanche Trail Council recognized his contribution to scouting in the region in 1955, when they awarded Graves the “Silver Beaver Award” for his leadership and dedication.

Doyle Graves remained active as long as he could. As his health began to fail in the 1980s, he gradually withdrew from community service and spent more time with his wife in their home in Bluff Dale. He died at Harris Methodist Hospital in Stephenville on February 1, 1989.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999. pp. 393-396.