In mid-December, the N.C. Department of Agriculture lost an employee who not only meant a lot to the research station where he worked but to the community around the station.
Dale Sheets had worked at the Upper Mountain Research Station in Ashe County since 2013, but he had a much longer, rich heritage with the Department of Agriculture. Teresa Lambert who grew up at the station and is now the director of the Research Stations Division in NCDA&CS, said Dale’s grandfather Gordon Sheets worked for the Transou farm that became part of the research station, and by all accounts that deal included bringing Gordon onboard to continue to help manage the farm.
Also, Gordon Sheets was at the station when Jim Graham was superintendent there. Graham and his wife had small children at the time, so Gordon’s wife (Dale’s grandmother) even helped babysit the Graham kids. The families were a close group, Lambert said. That was, of course, several years before Graham became agriculture commissioner.
So it’s easy to understand how Dale Sheets was so connected to the research station. He was engrained in its history and into the community as well.
“I got to know Dale long before he came to work at Upper Mountain,” said Tracy Taylor who is now the station superintendent. “His grandfather Gordon and my grandfather Dan Taylor worked together at the station many years ago. So Dale and I had something in common that isn’t found every day.”
When Dale was hired to work at the station, he made sure that his ongoing farming at home didn’t affect work at the station. He did need time to make hay each year though, so he and Taylor had an agreement that as long as things at the station were caught up, Dale could take the time he needed to support his personal farm.
“He was very intentional about making sure that he kept his end of the bargain and that his time off didn’t interfere with station operations, so much so that he would bring his personal hay equipment to the station each year to make sure our hay went in the barn before his did,” Taylor said. “On more than one occasion, our equipment broke down while making hay, and Dale was always there, even into the evening or on weekends, with his personal equipment to make sure our hay didn’t get wet.”
Dale built a reputation as being someone who was always there to do anything the station needed. There was plenty that wasn’t actually his job, but you would have never known it.
“His job title was maintenance, but he did a little bit of everything,” Taylor said. “He worked in the shop. He worked in the field. He was a driver when we needed one. He worked with cattle. He was a jack of all trades. He did whatever we needed to be done.”
That type of assistance also came into play after some hurricanes. Dale was always willing to lend an extra hand, even if that extra hand was needed at a different station in a different part of the state.
“When hurricanes hit in the past, he would get in a tractor and go down east to help the research stations. He got to know a lot of people in our division because a lot of people in the division used his help,” Taylor said. “He just wanted to help out.”
Dale will not only be remembered as a constant helper and father figure for the community, but also as someone who worked hard, was detail oriented and committed to doing a good job. As just one example, he always worked to raise the best forage possible for his cattle. At the 2021 N.C. State Fair he won first place for Orchardgrass in the forage crops competition.
His death left a void not only at the research station and the Department of Agriculture. He was an established part of the surrounding Laurel Springs area.
“There’s a big hole in Laurel Springs,” Lambert said. “It’s not just the research station. He helped the community.”
For example, he was involved with the fire department and served on boards for Farm Bureau, local farmland preservation and soil and water conservation. Dale also helped lots of people with putting up hay. One of those people was Lambert’s own son. This past summer, Dale helped her son put up hay so he would have enough to feed his ponies.
“He did that just because he wanted to help my son,” Lambert said.
Another example was Dale’s involvement in a local church that borders the station. The church was going to close, but Dale and many others didn’t want to see that happen. So he bought the church and had been maintaining it along with the grounds and cemetery.
“I can only imagine that was between him and God, and that was a calling that he needed to abide by,” Lambert said. “It’s fitting because that’s where he rests. He rests at the church overlooking the research station.”
“He’s one of the people you don’t come across every day,” Taylor said. “He’s one of the good ones.”
To read the obituary of Dale Sheets, click on this link to the Boone Funeral Home website.