College of Agriculture


Lance Tennis

For Woodland native Lance Tennis, CSU, Chico was far enough away from home to allow him to feel independent, and yet close enough to home that his mom could do his laundry. That, in part, is what influenced the 2002 College of Agriculture Distinguished Alum to come to school here. Once in Chico, he found a gold mine of educational opportunities, both in and out of the classroom. 

A successful farmer, agricultural leader, and advocate, Tennis credits what he learned at Chico State for giving him the foundation he needed. He often uses the accounting and management skills acquired in his pursuit of an agriculture business degree to keep the rice and row crop operation he runs with his brother Pat on track. The brothers took over the family farm in the Sutter Basin in the late sixties after their father fell ill. The two have expanded the business to include holdings in Butte County, where the 1964 alum lives with his wife Audrey.

Though he has seen success in farming, Tennis agrees with many California growers that simply running a business well is not enough to keep agriculture viable. One must also keep a close watch on political issues and influence them to the degree possible if agriculture is to prosper in today’s social climate. That’s why Tennis has spent countless hours on boards of directors and in other leadership positions. He has worked particularly hard to keep water rights afloat for California agriculture.

A partial list of organizations that have benefited from Lance’s leadership skills includes Butte County Farm Bureau, Northern Calif. Farm Credit, Western Canal Water District, California Rice Research Board, Butte County Water Commission, Enloe Foundation Board, and Butte County Rice Growers Association. Lance and his wife Audrey received the Ag Service Award at the 1999 Farm City Week Celebration. In addition, the Golden Empire Council of the Boy Scouts of America named Tennis one of three Distinguished Agricultural Citizens for 2002.

Tennis learned many of his lobbying and leadership skills between class and study time at Chico State. The leader of the fledgling ag program was Dr. Loren Phillips, who is remembered by many as “a character.” When Tennis was involved in student government, he was preparing for a retreat at Clear Lake with the rest of the of the Associated Student officers when Phillips cornered him. “You’re going up there to make financial decisions,” said the ad department head, “and our livestock judging team needs money. See what you can do.” Lance formed an alliance with a sympathetic associate and they managed to convince their colleagues to shift money from athletics to the judging team. Today, he laughs about it as his first experience with lobbying.

The early ’60s were an exciting time to be involved in Chico State ag, according to Tennis. “Everything was just getting started,” he says. “We were just getting the University Farm and we were blessed with a lot of great faculty.” He especially remembers Prof. Ken Bensel for his dedication, Prof. William Peek for his professionalism, and Prof. Bob Wallace for his enthusiasm about ag mechanics.

But the one person the person that most positively influenced his life was Phillips, and he has a number of fond memories about him.

A favorite Phillips memory involves some friends who started out to be ag teachers. There was no ag teacher credential program at the time, and so aspiring educators went to Davis after obtaining a bachelor’s in ag at Chico State. Lance remembers a point of bemused frustration for Phillips was the eventual fate of three of the ag students he helped get through the process: they went into the ministry. 

That the three students were friends of Tennis is not surprising. Many of his extra curricular activities centered on a commitment to Christianity. “My mother became a Christian through a radio evangelist and we attended the First Baptist Church in Woodland faithfully,” he says. “I met some really strong Christians at Chico through Intervarsity Fellowship and they helped keep me focused on my faith.” Today, he Audrey are members of the Evangelical Free Church in Chico, and actively support many ministries. 

After college, Tennis took a detour to serve as an officer in the Navy before taking the reins of the family farm with brother Pat. He was stationed in Imperial Valley, Audrey’s home turf. He met Audrey in church there and married her a short time later.

Lance and Audrey have two children. Their daughter Kelly graduated from UC Davis in agricultural managerial economics and is married to Rob Doornbos. They live in Norman, Oklahoma with the Tennis’s first grandchild, William. Son Matt graduated from CSU, Chico in 1995 in speech/communication and is living in Sacramento with his wife Rebekah.

The couple enjoys travel (when Audrey can get him away from the ranch) and relaxing at their cabin at Lake Almanor. But true to his roots, our 2003 Distinguished Alum’s favorite activity continues to be farming.