Al Whitehead is not the retiring type, but this year, 2017, he decided to limit his activities. The 96-year-old Master Gardener is devoting more time to his fruit trees, propagation projects, vegetable garden, plant trials and roses at his home in a Henderson suburb.
He grew up on a 250-acre farm in the Piney Woods of East Texas. After a career as a microbiologist specializing in infectious diseases, he retired to a 150-acre farm in Rusk County then moved to a home with a lot much smaller.
Al’s experience and dedication have been an inspiration to the Rusk County Master Gardeners Association. When he enrolled as an intern at age 90, he logged 68 volunteer hours, 18 more than required. These were active hours including one of his favorites, working in the Demonstration Garden at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center & Extension Services at Overton.
Professors and scientists there develop new varieties as well as teach seminars and classes. As a scientist, Al enjoyed learning from professionals as well as maintaining the garden. His insatiable curiosity and interest in anything new led him to many of his projects.
One of his recent interests is the air layering propagation technique. Growing up, Chinquapin trees, an Indian name, were abundant. They had an edible nut that many older people recall. However, they were destroyed by a blight about 40 years ago, but Al found two saplings back in the backwoods of his childhood. Propagating and reestablishing these lost trees is now one of his goals.
A lifetime of experience in farming and science became one of the good fortunes of having Al in the the Rusk County Master Gardener Association.