Allen Christensen, who served as dean of the College of Agriculture from 1980 to 1994 and helped develop the California Agricultural Leadership Program, died Sept. 8.
He was 87.
Christensen was hired as an assistant professor to teach animal science in the then-School of Agriculture in 1964. He had previously taught at UC Davis, Brigham Young University, and in White Pine County schools in Nevada.
At the time, the Pomona campus was still the southern branch of the California Polytechnic University, based in San Luis Obispo. Women had just begun enrolling three years earlier.
“There were 4,400 students enrolled … budgets were short and salaries low. I made less the first years here than I had been making teaching high school vocational agriculture in Nevada,” Christensen recalled when he retired in 1994.
The Pomona campus had a very rural feel, with the surrounding communities of La Verne, Diamond Bar, Walnut, and Industry still possessing farms and ranches.
In addition to teaching, Christensen served as the livestock judging coach and managed the poultry unit.
“For several years, my wife, Kathy, would bring our small children to Cal Poly after their school day was complete,” he added. “They would help me feed chickens, gather, process, and package eggs.”
As a faculty member, Christensen developed the college’s vocational agricultural teaching program and the curriculum for the California Agricultural Leadership Program, an advanced leadership development experience for mid-career growers, farmers, ranchers, and others in California’s agriculture industry.
“The leadership program continues today, after 52 years, as the most outstanding program of its type in the country,” said Plant Science Professor Emerita Peggy Perry, who served as associate dean under Christensen.
Cal Poly Pomona is one of four universities that participates in the leadership program, and Christensen served as the on-campus coordinator for the program.
Through the years, he earned promotions to associate professor and professor, and then was appointed associate dean in 1975. After briefly serving as interim dean, Christensen was named dean of the School of Agriculture in 1980, succeeding T. J. Cunha.
Janet Mundy joined the school as the administrative operations analyst during this period, tracking its budget and finances.
“It was a demanding position, and I had a lot to learn,” she said. “Allen was a great supervisor – patient, kind, and had a wonderful sense of humor.”
As dean, Christensen believed that participating in international programs would enhance Cal Poly Pomona’s prestige and assist in its success.
“He strongly believed in being a global citizen and saw great potential in helping people by investing in international development,” Perry said.
To that end, he represented the university on the Consortium for International Development’s board of trustees and was a member of the Agency for International Development’s Joint Committee for Agricultural Research and Development.
In addition, Cal Poly Pomona was the lead university in an international development project in Yemen involving pomology – the planting of fruit trees – during his tenure.
Christensen also built support for the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, traveling internationally with then-university President Hugh La Bounty to visit Arabian horse programs in Europe and the Middle East.
During his tenure, the Equine Research Center was established and became an important vehicle for research and graduate education and service to the industry.
Other programs that developed and received approval were the apparel merchandising and management and animal health science majors.
Student and Faculty Engagement
Despite his many travels and commitments, Christensen remained very engaged with students and faculty.
“You could always find him when he had the time at student club meetings, Ag Field Day for California FFA students, and student-related gatherings, such as scholarship banquets, barbecues, and the like,” Plant Science Professor Emeritus Dan Hostetler recalled.
It was Christensen who named a young Hostetler as the plant science department chair over more senior colleagues.
“He had the faith and confidence in me to take a position where every faculty member of the department was at least 10 years older than me,” Hostetler said.
Christensen made himself available to talk about any problems the younger professor encountered or to help recruit prospective students.
“With his help, I was able to gain confidence I needed to organize a modern integrated plant science department,” Hostetler recalled.
Christensen also recommended Hostetler for an opening on the Southern California Land Foundation board, which wound up helping Chino and Ontario preserve more than 300 acres of open space in perpetuity as dairies left the region.
In 1985, Christensen was named Cal Poly Pomona’s acting provost and academic vice president. He returned to his post as dean in 1987.
In addition, he served on numerous boards and committees, including the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges’ Board of Agriculture. Then-California Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Christensen to serve on the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in 1991.
Perry credited Christensen for his leadership style.
“Allen was always gracious, patient, and even keeled,” she recalled. “His spoken words were always measured and wise and never self-serving. He was a true servant leader.”
Mundy and Hostetler went further, saying Christensen created a sense of family in the college. He even officiated at Mundy’s wedding.
“Allen had a very good knack of making you feel like part of the family,” Hostetler said. “I believe he was a person who surrounded himself with good people who fit into the Cal Poly Pomona method of education of ‘learn by doing.’”
Christensen retired in 1994 after 30 years at Cal Poly Pomona, including 14 as dean of the college.
After leaving Cal Poly Pomona, Christensen served as president of the Philippines San Fernando Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Later, he was appointed as professor and director of the Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute at BYU and LDS Humanitarian Services.
During that period, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Board for International Food and Agriculture Development, where he served from 2006 to 2008.
Although he resided in his native Utah, he kept up with the College of Agriculture, subscribing to the email newsletter and attending a 2016 ceremony where the college was named after benefactor Don B. Huntley.
“Maintaining friendships was important to him, and after retiring, he continued to keep in close contact with former students, faculty, and staff from the college and university,” said Mundy, who worked for the college until her 2012 retirement.
Christensen was born on April 14, 1935, and raised in American Fork, Utah, where he was active in the Future Farmers of America and the marching band.
He attended Brigham Young University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in animal husbandry in 1957. Christensen also earned his master’s degree in animal nutrition from UC Davis in 1960 and his doctorate from Utah State in 1979.
He is survived by his wife Kathleen; children Ann, Allen Jr., James, Daniel, and Eric; brother Niel and sister Ann; 21 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren. He and Kathleen were also foster parents to eight other children.
Funeral services were held Saturday, Sept. 17, in American Fork.