Published on 11/23/16

UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Alumni Association recognizes 2016 alumni award winners

By Merritt Melancon

This year, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and CAES Alumni Association recognized bankers, farmers and Cooperative Extension leaders as part of its annual awards program.

“From the farm and field to the board and exam rooms, our alumni are leaders in a variety of areas,” said Elliott Marsh, president of the CAES Alumni Association. “These awards not only allow us to recognize the accomplishments of our fellow alumni, but also the ways in which CAES has contributed to our collective success.”

The alumni association recognized its 2016 award winners at the annual CAES Alumni Awards Banquet on Nov. 11 in Athens, Georgia.

UGA soybean pioneer John Woodruff, of Tifton, Georgia, and former Georgia Rep. Richard Royal, of Camilla, Georgia, were inducted into the Georgia Agricultural Hall of Fame. To find out more about these new inductees, visit

This year, the alumni association awarded four Alumni Awards of Excellence. These awards recognize CAES alumni who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields or in their communities. This year’s winners include:

Beverly Sparks, former CAES associate dean for Extension

Sparks, who graduated from UGA with her undergraduate degree in horticulture in 1978, went on to receive her master’s degree in entomology from UGA and her doctorate in entomology from Louisiana State University.

 After a long career in UGA Extension, Sparks was named associate dean for Extension within CAES in 2007. She was the first woman to lead UGA Extension, and she served as director of Extension until 2014. Her leadership is credited with helping Extension weather the financial turmoil that accompanied the Great Recession.

D. Wayne Akins Jr., chief retail banking officer of Synovus Bank

Akins comes from a long line of CAES graduates. His grandfather graduated from the college in 1960. His mother served as a 4-H Extension agent for 30 years. Akins credits Josef Broder, currently the associate dean for academic affairs, for helping him find his career path.

From 1998 to 2009, Akins served as the CEO and president of Sea Island Bank in Statesboro, Georgia. During his time there, Akins directed the strategic growth, profitability and market shares of the organization. He led nine executives and more than 140 personnel.

When Sea Island Bank was consolidated into Synovus Bank, he assumed a leadership position and now serves as chief retail banking officer for the company, which operates 280 branch offices in five southeastern states.

Charles Hubert Bronson Jr., former Florida commissioner of agriculture and consumer services

Bronson received a bachelor’s degree in animal science and agricultural education in 1972. Over the course of his career, he taught agricultural science at Gainesville High School, worked as a agricultural supply salesman and was elected to the Florida State Senate representing Brevard and Osceola counties.

In addition to serving on several authorities and advisory committees across the state, Bronson served as state senator from 1994 to 2001, when he was named commissioner of agriculture and consumer services by Gov. Jeb Bush. He was subsequently reelected to two more terms, serving in the post until he retired in 2011.

Lowry Weyman Hunt, Jr., sixth-generation Morgan County, Georgia, farmer

Hunt was the first in his family to seek a college degree in agriculture.

He graduated from CAES in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture. During his time at UGA, he majored in animal science and minored in agronomy. Hunt knew that knowledge in these areas would help him run the family business, Godfrey’s Warehouse, and the family farm, Innisfail Farm.

Innisfail, a 2,200-acre timber and cattle farm, has been in Hunt’s family for six generations. Hunt took over operations in 1972.


The alumni association also honored three young alumni through its CAES Young Alumni Achievement Awards. These awards recognize CAES alumni under 35 who have achieved excellence in their chosen fields or in their communities. The 2016 award winners include:

Allison Perkins, UGA Extension 4-H and Youth Development agent in Bartow County

Perkins graduated from CAES in 2005. She majored in animal science, then went on to get her master’s degree in agricultural leadership.

In her current position, Perkins is responsible for implementing educational programs for 4-H youth within Bartow County, Georgia. She carries out equine programs for youth.

Cliff Riner, coordinator of the Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center and Vidalia onion area Extension agent

Riner received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from CAES in 2006 and is currently pursuing his master’s degree in agricultural and environmental education.

Riner started his career as the Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension agent in Tattnall County, Georgia, and was promoted to his current position as coordinator of the Vidalia Onion and Vegetable Research Center and the Vidalia onion area UGA Extension agent in 2013.

Luke Lanier, assistant vice president of Metter Bank

Lanier graduated from CAES in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics.

After graduation, Lanier accepted a job at Durden Banking Company and moved back to his family farm in Candler County, Georgia. Lanier spent the past eight years helping local farmers by coordinating agricultural lending.

For more information about the ways that alumni of the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences have shaped the world visit

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension before joining Terry College.

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