Leo Timms: Our Notoriety is in the Impact

By Chris Kick

Pictures of former students and personal letters decorate almost every inch of Leo Timms’ office walls. There are a few pictures of his family, and some prestigious awards he’s won, but mostly the walls belong to his students – and to others in the animal industry who he has helped.

In September, when he takes everything down, Timms will have 35 years of memories from working in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University.

As a Morrill professor and dairy extension specialist at Iowa State, Timms has spent his career educating Iowans about modern livestock production and animal husbandry.

His accolades include research awards, dairy industry patents and professional connections around the world. But what he enjoyed most, he said, was working with the people of Iowa and helping them improve their lives.

“Our notoriety is in the impact we still have when students and people in the community continue to contact us,” he said. “What makes me tick is stimulating the great minds of students, and on the other hand, when they stimulate you as well, and challenge you to continue learning.”

Always learning

Timms has been challenged to learn something new all his life. He grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and got his first farm exposure as a young boy milking cows on his brother-in-law’s dairy farm. As the years went by, he became more involved, and was accepted into Cornell University, where he studied engineering and animal sciences.

When he was a senior in 1978, he got a call from a dairy farm in western New York, asking him to become their herdsman. Timms left and worked at that dairy farm for two and a half years caring for 300-400 cows. He graduated retroactively from Cornell in 1978, and went on to earn his masters and Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1982 and 1984 respectively.

Timms and his family arrived in Ames, in 1984, and that’s where he’s worked ever since, holding appointments in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of veterinary Medicine.

“I just had some really good turns of events with good people,” Timms said.

But equally important was his passion to teach and help others. Not one to just sit behind a desk, Timms said he liked that his career allowed him to interact with the industry and work hand-in-hand to help people find answers.

“There were so many opportunities,” he said. “I could meet with farmers, I could meet with agricultural people, I could come here to my office and meet with the students and build lasting relationships.”

Passion to teach

John Lawrence, vice president for Extension and Outreach at Iowa State, said Timms’ applied research and real-word experience helped make him an accomplished educator.

“He is one of the hardest working people I know and what drives him is his commitment to the dairy industry and deep caring for people,” Lawrence said. “Whether that is producers or consumers of milk, he strives to assure a safe and sustainable product.”

When he began at Iowa State, Timms’ position was 100 percent extension, but that didn’t stop him from teaching and developing his own classwork.

Early in his career, he developed a class in the veterinary college, about on-farm dairy trouble-shooting, which is still offered today.

Timms taught students the importance of good animal care and husbandry, not only to improve the welfare of the animal, but also to enhance the interactions for veterinary care and increase profits.

“I loved being around other people and serving them,” Timms said. “I used to say that extension was making things simple, understandable, economical and fun and that is the kind of experience I had at Iowa State.”

June 20, 2019