CSU, Chico

Trena Kimler-Richards - 2014

Trena Kimler-Richards - 2014

Trena Kimler-Richards, 2014

The College of Agriculture’s 2014 Distinguished Alumna has seen and served CSU, Chico from just about every possible vantage point. Trena Kimler-Richards earned a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and teaching credential from CSU, Chico. She worked for the College of Agriculture as outreach coordinator for more than a decade, recruiting students and helping to build the agriculture program. As a high school and community college teacher, Kimler-Richards has sent countless students here. As a donor, she and her sister established a scholarship in the College of Agriculture to honor their late father.  Trena Kimler-Richards is a Wildcat through and through. It is her dedication to the College of Agriculture and her professional success in the agricultural education field that prompted the College of Agriculture to select her as the first woman to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award in agriculture.

Kimler-Richards was born in Fair Oaks, California, and moved with her family to Auburn in the third grade, later moving again to Grass Valley where her parents bought a ranch. The Kimler family raised cattle and operated a 50-sow swine herd, sending 125 head of hogs to Victor Brand Meat Company each month. Her entrepreneurial parents owned and operated everything from Hallmark and candy stores to feed stores. Her brother, Greg, still operates Echo Valley Ranch and Feed in Auburn.

Kimler-Richards grew up showing her family’s registered angus cattle in 4-H, FFA, and open junior shows. When she reached high school, she became extremely active in FFA, competing in various contests such as public speaking and parliamentary procedure and earning leadership roles including serving as a Superior Region FFA officer. But of all the activities she participated in, Kimler-Richards’ greatest successes came in livestock judging. In 1977, during her junior year of high school at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, Kimler-Richards’ team of three girls won every contest in the state of California and then went on to win the National Livestock Judging Contest, the first time an all-female team accomplished that feat.

When it came time to go to college, Kimler-Richards’ livestock judging prowess opened doors for her all over the country. She received scholarship offers from numerous universities, including Oklahoma State and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, but none of them could assure her that she would have a spot on the team, until a conversation with the faculty at CSU, Chico, including Professor Wes Patton and livestock judging coach Ron Hutchings, sealed the deal.

“I asked them point blank, ‘Will you judge a woman at nationals?’ ” Trena recalled. “Hutch said, ‘If you earn your place, you’re on.’ ”

That was the response she wanted to hear. Kimler-Richards made the livestock judging team her sophomore year at CSU, Chico and went on to earn second-place high individual at the Arizona National Livestock Show. The team ended the year 13th in the nation, winning the sheep contest at the North American International Livestock Exposition.

Kimler-Richards made the most of her college experience, living on the University Farm and working at various times in the farm office, beef unit, and meats laboratory. She also chaired the livestock judging contest of the FFA Field Day for two years and then became chair of the entire field day.

“There are no barriers to success at Chico State,” she said. “If you chose to get involved, you can. The best part of the Chico Experience is the faculty advising, which links students with faculty and gives them a mentor for their time here. If you are a doer, they give you the opportunities you need to succeed.”

After graduating with a degree in agricultural business in 1982, Kimler-Richards worked briefly for a cable data company until Patton and former faculty member Dennis Hampton persuaded her to return to school to become an agriculture teacher.

She completed her phase-one student teaching at Fall River High School, and after completing the credential program, went to work at Red Bluff High School, where she and Jim Millar were hired to rebuild the agriculture program. Two years later, they had hired two more agriculture teachers, and in four years, the program had grown to 580 students, the second largest agriculture program in the nation at the time. She taught at Red Bluff High School for seven years, meeting her husband, physical education teacher Laird Richards, while there.

In 1992, Kimler-Richards was offered a job as a part-time lecturer and outreach coordinator for the CSU, Chico College of Agriculture. She returned to her alma mater during a period of turbulence and uncertainty about the college’s future. After narrowly escaping the chopping block in June of 1992, the College of Agriculture was given the charge to grow its enrollment, so Kimler-Richards spent the next 11 years recruiting students to join the College of Agriculture family. She visited high schools and community colleges, attended FFA conventions, built a team of student ag ambassadors, managed livestock show teams, and connected with teachers, parents, and prospective students. 

While working at CSU, Chico, Kimler-Richards went back to school and earned her master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with her final project focusing on how to recruit and retain students. In 2002, with a master’s degree under her belt and her 5-year-old son, Kegan, entering kindergarten, she decided it was time to stay home and spend more time with her family. Never one to be idle, Kimler started buying, selling, and managing properties, and working with her mother, Jeannie Gallagher, to build their fruit-flavored vinegar cooking sauce business, Antelope Creek Farms.

In 2008, Kimler-Richards entered the classroom once again when she was offered a part-time position teaching at Shasta College. In 2012, the position became full time. Kimler-Richards teaches a wide variety of classes such as Introduction to Animal Science, Agriculture Business, Agriculture Economics, Livestock Feeding and Nutrition, Agriculture Leadership, Range Management, Livestock Production, Sustainable Agriculture, and Agriculture Career Placement. Kimler-Richards also serves as the coordinator for the agriculture and natural resources program and is the Shasta College Ag Leadership Club advisor.

Since Kimler-Richards joined the Shasta College faculty, Shasta has become one of the College of Agriculture’s most connected and prolific feeder schools. As a high school senior, CSU, Chico agricultural business major Garrett Wallis debated whether to come straight to Chico or attend Shasta College first. After meeting Kimler-Richards and touring Shasta College, Wallis decided to start out at Shasta, and he’s glad he had the chance to learn from her.   

“She pushes student to achieve their full potential,” Wallis said. “She’s really good at what she does and she expects the best from all of us.”

Wallis, who Dean Daley describes as mature, hard-working, and dedicated, is the kind of transfer student that faculty in the College of Agriculture have come to expect from Kimler-Richards. 

“I know that if they’ve spent any time with Trena, they’ve learned to work hard and push themselves,” Daley said. “They’ve received a great education at Shasta College, and they’re ready for the rigors of our upper-division coursework.”

Kimler-Richards' distinction as an educator was affirmed in 2010 when she received the prestigious Teacher of Excellence Award from the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association (CATA), in which she has been active throughout her career. Kimler-Richards worked her way through regional and state leadership roles and served as the president of CATA in 1997 while she was the outreach director for the College of Agriculture. She currently serves as statewide advisor for the Collegiate Agricultural Leaders, a leadership and career development program for agriculture students in California's community colleges.

Beyond her professional achievements, Kimler-Richards has given back to CSU, Chico as a volunteer and a donor. Kimler-Richards serves on the Red Bluff Ag Social Committee, helping to plan the annual alumni reunion and fundraiser held during the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale in January. In 2001, she and her sister, Tamzen Stringham (Economics, ’81), established the Gene Kimler-Echo Valley Ranch Memorial Scholarship to honor their father, who believed that higher education was the key to a successful future. Raised on a corn and cattle operation in Illinois during the depression, Gene Kimler experienced the devastating loss of the family farm and taught his children that education was the one thing that could never be taken from them. The Gene Kimler-Echo Valley Ranch Memorial Scholarship now helps one student each year achieve the goal of attending higher education with the promise of giving back to the community in the future.

Thirty years after earning her first degree, Kimler-Richards is still making her mark at CSU, Chico. Kimler-Richards was honored as the College of Agriculture’s 2014 Distinguished Alumna at a ceremony in the Bell Memorial Union on April 11, 2014.