George Jesse has always been a valued member of the animal sciences department at the University of Missouri. After 35 years of teaching, advising, and research, this year will be his last.
Jesse grew up in Mexico, Mo., on a 160-acre farm. He never intended to go to college, but after two tough farming years following high school, he changed his mind. The oldest of six, Jesse’s four younger brothers were also interested in farming, but there was not enough land or money to be made.
Jesse sought the advice of his FFA adviser, who recommended MU as the best agriculture school in the state.
However, not everyone was so supportive of his goal. Jesse’s grandmother didn’t want him to turn into a “disrespectful college student.” He made her a promise to be the same grandson, but didn’t realize it was a promise he couldn’t completely keep.
“I kept my religious, ethical, and family values,” Jesse said. “But meeting students and faculty of such a diverse background changed me forever.”
Most of Jesse’s classes were in animal husbandry, an old-fashioned term for animal science, which was not a surprise for someone so livestock-oriented. During his undergraduate years, Jesse also participated on the livestock judging team.
Being older than most students, Jesse got married after his sophomore year. His wife had a job at home, so he began commuting 80 miles a day to school, and was able to continue farming at home to help support himself.
Two years later, with graduation approaching, Jesse and his wife were expecting their first child, and he desperately needed a job. He interviewed with three meatpacking companies, and was offered all three jobs. However, the job he really wanted was with the MU extension team as a livestock specialist.
Unfortunately, Jesse wasn’t offered the job because he didn’t have a master’s degree, a new rule that had just been added during Jesse’s application process. He went back to his adviser, who needed a graduate student for a research project. After being offered a small salary to work on his master’s, he turned down all three of the other job opportunities and went back to school just three weeks after graduation.
In 1969, Jesse got the livestock extension job and moved his family to Harrisonville. He traveled to five counties giving livestock recommendations. Throughout this time, Jesse was continually offered a higher paying job with Allied Mills in feed sales. When evaluations came around, Jesse made a promise to his wife that he would stay if given a $500 raise – he only got $450.
Jesse took the job and moved again, this time to the New Melle area. He was miserable within the first week of his new job.
“I left a job I loved for 50 bucks,” he said.
The only thing that kept him going was his faith in God. After two months, Jesse once again asked for his adviser’s help. He was offered a temporary job in his adviser’s department that included teaching introductory labs, advising undergraduate students, and research in St. Louis.
His livestock judging coach from his undergraduate years, who also worked in Jesse’s department, offered Jesse a new opportunity – a doctorate in beef cattle nutrition. Four and a half years later, he took a job at Texas A&M, also thanks to his livestock judging coach.
“My life has been so unplanned,” Jesse said. “The connections you make and the faith they have in you is often what gets you places.”
Jesse taught at Texas A&M for two years before returning to MU in ‘77, and has been here ever since. He has served as the department head for seven years, on top of teaching and advising.
Sophomore animal science major, Audra Russell, is one of the many students that Dr. Jesse works with.
“He’s very supportive, and always helps me make the right decision, even if it’s not what I originally planned,” Russell said.
Jesse is known for his stories and instilling confidence in his students. He goes above and beyond to help students find the best path to take, the same way his advisers always helped him.
“It’s been a good ride,” Jesse said. “I have to hope along the way I’ve made a difference. If so, I’ve done my job.”