December 6, 2012Vol. 43, Issue 3

Dick and Marian Baldy’s Immeasurable Contributions to the College of Agriculture

Marian Baldy and her students swirl a wine to release its aroma compounds for the cover of "The Teacher's Manual for the University Wine Course,"  published in 1994.

Marian Baldy and her students swirl a wine to release its aroma compounds for the cover of "The Teacher's Manual for the University Wine Course," published in 1994.

Note: Dick and Marian Baldy were inducted into the College of Agriculture Hall of Honor in October. Sarah DeForest, College of Agriculture advancement director, compiled their biography. Kathleen McPartland, Public Affairs and Publications, interviewed them recently and added personal comments.

Dick and Marian Baldy met at UC Davis in 1965 and were married four months later. Dick asked Marian to marry him on their second date. “This was quite uncharacteristic of me,” said Baldy, usually deliberate about making decisions. He describes his attraction to Marian as physical, of course, but also intellectual.  “Marian is extremely bright and I could foresee an exciting life with her.  I saw that we could have an equal partnership.  I think this is important for both men and women.“

While Dick pursued his PhD in plant physiology, Marian earned her PhD in genetics. They spent two years in post-doctoral positions in Portland, Ore., and in the fall of 1970, Dick was hired by Chico State to teach pomology and master’s degree courses in what was then the College of Agriculture, Engineering, and Nursing.

Dick was certainly right about the potential for a wonderful partnership, as evidenced by almost 48 years of successful marriage. They’ve shared teaching careers in agriculture (including a corner office), a short-lived commercial winery business, adopted grandchildren, a commitment to equality and opportunity for women, and travels throughout the world.

“We both come from families with similar values,” said Dick. “Our parents were married until one parent died. Neither of us was that interested in material things. We were both scientists and worked in the same department. We tried hard not to be in lock step with each other, as there was some resistance to a couple teaching in the same department when we first came.”

The courses that Dick developed over the next 30 years helped shape the core of today’s agriculture curriculum. He developed the Introduction to Plant Science course, which meets the life science general education requirement for students across campus. He also created another GE class, Food Forever, which looks at how ecological factors, technology, and societal values interact to determine food production and food choices around the globe. In the early 1990s, when the College of Agriculture was instructed to change its direction or risk elimination, Dick designed an undergraduate research program that gives Chico State seniors the kind of research experience that most students don’t receive unless they go on to graduate school.

Working in the Napa Valley at Robert Mondavi's To-Kalon Vineyard in 1992, Dick and Marian Baldy collected leaves from phylloxera-affected and healthy Cabernet Sauvignon vines for analysis at NASA, Ames.

Working in the Napa Valley at Robert Mondavi's To-Kalon Vineyard in 1992, Dick and Marian Baldy collected leaves from phylloxera-affected and healthy Cabernet Sauvignon vines for analysis at NASA, Ames.

Dick Baldy is thoughtful and careful in his speech and manner and carries an understated power of conviction and integrity. He talked about how he saw his role as a teacher in terms of equipping students with the knowledge to make decisions, but to not unduly direct them in what those decisions might be. “In the 70s, I was teaching orchard management students who were ecologically minded about soils and fertilizer, about basic biological processes and like how plant cells metabolize energy so they can function—things you need to know to make decisions about such things as fertilizers, including whether there is a difference in how soil microbes bind with ammonia and nitrates, whether from commercial fertilizers or manure. The students wanted to use some of the abundant manure from the dairy on the orchards—it was an idea that was appealing to them. That meant that they needed to use a tractor to move it around, which had energy costs associated with it.  They chose to use the tractor, even though the ecological benefits were questionable. That was their decision to make.” Baldy’s point was that it is often easy to demonize things—commercial fertilizer, for example—if you don’t have the underlying information to make a good decision. His role, he emphasized, was to provide the research and analytical tools so that his students could make critical decisions.

A former student, Jed Harrison, wrote to Dick: “My experience as a student at Chico State was incredible, and prepared me a very successful and satisfying life. But having you Dick, as a major professor was the single greatest influence in giving me the analytical and problem solving tools that I've relied on now for 40 years.  You truly had a passion for your teaching, and great creativity.  I'm not good at remembering facts, but I can look at things in a holistic way, analyze and diagnose problems, and find creative solutions.  I will always be thankful for your mentorship.”

When Dick was hired at Chico State, Marian came along as a “trailing spouse” who was determined to teach. When the biology department turned her down, she developed a new class in agricultural genetics, and the School of Agriculture hired her to teach it. Although she did not have a full time teaching appointment, Marian made herself indispensable. She taught introductory accounting, animal breeding, and agricultural genetics her first semester. She attended faculty meetings, assuming she belonged there.

It was at one of these faculty meetings that a discussion took place about the lack of high-enrollment courses in the agriculture school. Marian and Dick went home that night and put together a proposal for a new course in wine appreciation. By the next semester she was teaching a full lecture hall of 120 students, the first of over 6,000. That class would become – and still is – one of the most popular at the University.

Marian may have created the wine appreciation class so that she would have something to teach, but over the course of 30 years, she became an internationally recognized expert. She wrote a popular textbook, The University Wine Course, as well as countless papers on wine and wine education. She received the USDA National Teaching Award in 1994, the American Wine Society’s prestigious Merit Award in 2002, and the Introduction to Wine course was recognized for Exemplary Online Instruction at CSU, Chico in 2004.

In 1974, Marian became the first female tenure-track professor in the agriculture department. Marian acknowledges that it was not an easy path, but she is proud of the road that she has paved for the women who followed her. Today, five of the 15 tenure-track faculty in the College of Agriculture are women, including the dean.

At the end of her acceptance speech at the Hall of Honor dinner, Marian made an appeal (given the national political discussion going on during the elections) for some of the ideas that supported and nurtured her during her education and career as a woman scientist in agriculture. From her mother, she heard, “It is OK for girls to be smart and smart girls should go to college; a girl can be a scientist—or whatever she wants. Science is important.”

“I was fortunate to come of age when the political conversation included equal opportunities for women and when science research and education was seen as an important national investment,” said Marian. “I clearly benefitted from the fruits of those conversations.”

In the laboratory at NASA, the Baldys feed individual leaves into an instrument to measure their area for the phylloxera project.

In the laboratory at NASA, the Baldys feed individual leaves into an instrument to measure their area for the phylloxera project.

Dick and Marian both took part in the Faculty Early Retirement Program in the early 2000s and officially retired from the College of Agriculture in 2005.  From developing courses and building programs, to mentoring students and alumni, the Baldys have had an impact on the College of Agriculture that will not soon be forgotten.

Since their retirement, the Baldys have traveled extensively. They are founding members of the Heart of the Lotus Sangha at Sky Creek Dharma center. Dick is a photographer who had a one-man show at the Upper Crust two years ago and exhibits regularly at Avenue 9 Gallery.

They spend time with six of their eight grandchildren—Patrick, Tommy, Lisa, Timmy Daniel, and Lynda Pham—in Seattle. They became the children’s grandparents after Marian’s mother, who had been a very close mentor of their father’s through a tutoring relationship, died. Dick and Marian continued their relationship with the family and became the grandparents, by mutual choice, traveling at least five times a year to Seattle to attend the Opera (they had kept Marian’s mother’s subscription to the opera in honor of her love for opera) with one or more of the children. While they are there, they have other adventures with the kids, share family meals and celebrations, and have helped them as they made their way through school and into college. They are also grandparents to Aidan and Caroline Simmons, grandchildren of the late Tom Dickinson, former dean of the College of Agriculture. 

Their relationship with the grandchildren and their parents says so much about the Baldys: their generosity, loyalty, wisdom, and absolute passion for whatever they take on together. Their Hall of Honor induction speaks for their many contributions to the college and University; the continuing generosity to family and community speaks to a partnership that has not just endured, but flourished in ways even Dick couldn’t have imagined those many decades ago.