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Obituary for Steven Lewis Fales

Dr. Steven Lewis Fales, 70, passed away at Mary Greeley Hospital on April 24, 2017. Steve was born March 14, 1947, in Providence, RI. He was raised in Warwick, RI, and graduated from Pilgrim High School.

Steve was passionate about many things, not least among them his professional life in academia. He came to the profession in an unusual way. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor of Arts in English, he joined the US Coast Guard. After three years in the service, he returned to the University of Rhode Island where he earned a master’s degree in Plant and Soil Science. He then attended Purdue University on a David Ross Fellowship, earning a Doctorate in Agronomy.

After five years at the University of Georgia, first as a postdoc and then as an assistant professor, he joined the faculty of Crop and Soil Sciences at Penn State University. There he advanced through the ranks of associate professor and professor and became head of the department after a decade of teaching and research. He made notable contributions in all of these areas. He was recognized with the “Innovative Collaborations in Teaching Award” for engaging students in interdisciplinary thinking and education. He was made fellow of both the Crop Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy and received the Merit Award from the American Forage and Grassland Council.

From Penn State, he moved to Iowa State University where he served as chair of the agronomy department, and later as Biomass Research Coordinator of the Bioeconomy Institute. After retiring from academic life, he continued to pursue his lifelong passion for environmental conservation as a commissioner of the Story County Soil and Water Conservation District. He was an active volunteer for Food at First, a local organization dedicated to providing food to disadvantaged members of our community. In all of his post-retirement endeavors he strove to put his most fundamental beliefs into action.

Steve was a visionary leader and excelled at bringing people together to think about issues and develop innovative solutions to problems. His leadership had a profound impact on the profession of crop science. He was tapped by the Crop Science Society of America to lead a strategic assessment and visioning activity focused on addressing the challenges facing the profession related to changing member demographics and declining revenues. Steve assembled a large and diverse team of society members to think about how these issues could be addressed and employed several novel ideas in managing this initiative, which he named the Renaissance Initiative. He introduced the use of open space meetings and team building activities and encouraged out-of-the box thinking. The Renaissance Initiative was a hugely successful and impactful strategic planning activity. Nearly all of the recommendations made by the team were implemented by the board of directors and these have had a lasting and positive impact on the society and profession. Based on his commitment and contributions to CSSA, he was later nominated and elected president of the society, where he continued to exercise the progressive leadership for which he was widely known.

Steve had an unusual and distinctive approach to academic administration. He strived to engage everyone in his charge. He saw value in everyone and cared deeply about the people he was responsible to.

He is survived by his wife, Dianne Haggarty Fales; his son, Alex Fales of Carbondale, CO; and his brother, Greg (Deborah) Fales of West Greenwich, RI.

He was preceded in death by his parents, George and Elizabeth Fales of North Kingstown, RI.

Having grown up in RI, Steve was an avid and accomplished sailor. His most notable sail was from the Galapagos Islands to Tahiti in the late 1990s. His first love, the waters of Narragansett Bay, RI, will be his final resting place.

A memorial service in honor of Steve is planned for a later date.


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