Growing up in Ohio, Keith Hansen would never have imagined he would spend his entire career in horticulture in Texas.
After serving nearly 30 years as an Extension Horticulture Agent for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, with 23 years in Smith County, he is retiring at the end of August.
Hansen’s grandfather and father were heavily involved in gardening but as a child, it didn’t interest him.
After dropping out of college, he took a job at a retail nursery and discovered he liked working with plants and with people. Hansen returned to school, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in horticulture from Texas A&M University.
Hansen started his career as the horticulture extension agent in Nueces County in 1986.
Soon after the Smith County Commissioners Court formed a horticulture extension agent position here, he took that job in 1992. He learned Tyler was “the best garden spot in the state,” offering as much of “four seasons as you can get in Texas,” he said.
After taking the new position in Smith County, Hansen quickly formed an advisory committee of local professionals to get input on the needs of the urban and consumer horticulture and commercial industry.
“We’re here to serve the people, to try to meet the current needs,” Hansen said.
Since then, Hansen and his committee have started the Smith County Master Gardeners program, offering several classes a year to teach people to become certified master gardeners. Hansen serves as its coordinator and has taught 467 people. Currently, he has about 150 active master gardeners involved in the program right now.
“It’s a great organization, supporting what we do,” he said.
In 1996, Hansen created the first county horticulture website, http://easttexasgardening.tamu.edu, which he still maintains.
He also started the East Texas Landscaping & Gardening Conference, which ran for years until it was replaced by the East Texas Garden Lecture Series held in the spring and fall. He also helps with the annual multi-county East Texas Turf Grass Conference and the East Texas Fruit & Vegetable Conference.
Hansen also conducts educational programs for community organizations and writes a weekly newspaper column and blog. When he’s not doing that, or attending meetings and forming new programs to address emerging issues, he spends his time helping people.
He takes calls, emails and walk-ins, assessing damaged tree limbs or plants in efforts to figure out what is plaguing someone’s garden or yard. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of helping people,” Hansen said.
Helping people and the friendships he’s made on the job are what Hansen has enjoyed most of his nearly three-decade career.
But he felt like now is the right time to retire in order to spend more time with family and to try out new ventures. He will, no doubt, spend more time tending to his garden, made up mostly of shrubs and flowers.
Hansen will continue his business of creating and maintaining websites for businesses, while keeping his hand in the horticulture world, consulting and speaking when asked. He said he is also going to try garden coaching, giving guidance to do-it-yourself gardeners. He plans to continue blogging and is developing his new website, http://easttexasgardening.com and is contemplating writing a book.
Hansen’s last day as Smith County extension agent is Monday, Aug. 31, 2015.