A lifetime of inspiration fuels CSU alum to give back

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CSU alumnus Jeff Tovar poses for a photo with his daughters, Kyla and Brenna.

When Jeff Tovar came to Colorado State University, his plan was to play football and major in animal sciences as a pre-vet student. He still remembers his first time visiting campus from Elgin, Illinois, with his father and knowing immediately that this was where he wanted to be. 

“The mountains, the beautiful campus and the people there really got me excited about CSU,” said Tovar, who graduated from the College of Agricultural Sciences in 1990. 

It was people like University Distinguished Professor of animal ethics Bernie Rollin, Professor of Animal Sciences Temple Grandin and Professor of Animal Sciences Ed Pexton.

A changing focus

Before he left for CSU, Tovar had a “little” lawn mowing business on the side.  

That little side business from high school was still going strong by his junior year of college. Tovar had to hire a crew to help him handle the more than 300 customers he had each week. 

“Dr. Pexton was very aware of that, and he challenged me, asking if I’d ever thought about starting a landscape business,” Tovar said of his former advisor. “He told me, ‘I see you owning a bunch of veterinary clinics more than being a veterinarian.’ He just saw me more as a businessperson.” 

After taking Pexton up on an offer to do an independent study writing a business plan for a landscaping firm, Tovar says he began seeing himself that way, too. 

“I think that speaks volumes about Dr. Pexton,” Tovar said. “Instead of pushing me to continue on into veterinary medicine, he said, ‘Hey, maybe this might be right for you. You should try it out.’” 

Shortly after graduating, Tovar sold his landscaping business and went into the snow removal industry, creating Tovar Snow Professionals. The successful company has operated for 30 years on a policy of integrity and commitment to the environment, including launching the anti-icing product Tovar Enviro-Blend™, created to reduce the amount of salt needed in the deicing process. 

A lifelong influence 

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CSU alumnus Jeff Tovar and Animal Sciences Professor Temple Grandin chat at a dedication ceremony. In September 2021, a sculpture of Grandin was unveiled at the University’s Animal Sciences Building. Photo by Grace Branaugh/CSU Photography

Tovar says that commitment to the environment and doing the right thing was sparked by the lessons taught by Rollin and Grandin.  

Grandin’s groundbreaking work in the humane treatment of livestock along with her often quoted sentiment that “Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be” was a frequent reminder to Tovar that finding the right way to do things was critical. It’s a conviction he’s woven into not only his business model, but everything he does, including raising his daughters Kyla, 21, and Brenna, 19. 

Similarly, he holds Grandin up as an example to his daughters. 

“She is such a visionary and working in what was then generally a man’s field even when it was tough,” Tovar said. 

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Colorado State University philosophy and Distinguished Professor Bernie Rollin in a photo from 2016.

“And Professor Rollin got me and a lot of other students to think in a different way about agriculture and what we do with animals and how we do it,” said Tovar, who remained in contact with Rollin up until the professor’s death late last year. 

While Rollin, widely regarded as the “father of veterinary medical ethics,” had retired just before his death, Tovar says he knew his mentor and friend wouldn’t stay away from the work he loved for too long.  

“I was just really heartbroken when he passed away,” he said. “I had planned to go back and work with him for the next 20 years because I believe in the work he was doing.”

Giving back

Following his business success, Tovar wanted to give back to his alma mater to support strategic initiatives and to honor the people who influenced so much of his life. 

This fall, he gifted $2.75 million to CSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. The gift creates the Ed Pexton Student Success Enhancement fund to support student success initiatives within the Department of Animal Sciences and to fund an annual award for an outstanding and impactful advisor in the department. 

Additionally, the gift will create the Bernie Rollin Animal Ethics Enrichment fund to help with travel and publication expenses for animal welfare and ethics graduate students attending conferences and symposiums. It will also support a named symposium to attract distinguished lecturers who engage in research in animal ethics and behavior. 

It will also fund the Temple Grandin Animal Behavior Endowed Chair, a position that will be awarded to a faculty member with demonstrated knowledge, experience and a strong scholarly record bridging work between animal behavior and ethics. 

“Jeff’s gift is remarkable for its contributions to the science and practice of animal behavior and ethics,” said James Pritchett, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Jeff’s wisdom and actions elevate the importance of thinking differently and valuing differences for society’s benefit.”

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For Tovar, these endowments are a way not only to honor these professors but to make sure that their work continues long after their time at CSU. 

“There are a lot of people who believe in what they’re doing and in finding the next generation to carry on that work,” he said. “I want to see their work continue. I haven’t figured out exactly how to make that happen. This was just the start.” 

In recognition of Tovar’s support, the College of Agricultural Sciences will name the Ed Pexton Student Success Suite and the Bernard Rollin Knowledge Well, a unique round classroom, in the college’s new on-campus home, the Nutrien Agricultural Sciences Building, opening for classes in the Fall 2022 semester. These named spaces will serve as visible reminders of the impact these and other professors and advisors have on students at CSU. 

“It’s the people of Colorado State that set us apart from other universities – from renowned faculty like Temple Grandin, Bernie Rollin, and Ed Pexton, to generous alumni like Jeff Tovar,” said Kim Tobin, vice president for University Advancement. “We are extraordinarily grateful for Jeff’s gift, as it not only honors the impact these leaders had on his life and career, but also ensures that generations of future students have access to a world-class education through expert faculty and state-of-the-art facilities at CSU.”

A legacy worth honoring

Ed Pexton died in 1998, but his wife Jean says she knows he’d be honored and humbled by this tribute from a former student.

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CSU Professor of Animal Sciences Ed Pexton

“He struggled so much to achieve all that he did,” Jean Pexton said. “And I think that made him committed to helping others and really being there for them.” 

Raised on a ranch in Douglas, Wyoming, Ed fought to pursue higher education for himself as a student and later as a career path, Jean said. While not everyone was supportive of his endeavor, he learned to appreciate those who were, especially the professors and advisers who encouraged him to continue on the path he saw for himself. 

As a professor, Pexton found his calling helping others to pursue their passions at Colorado State University, Jean said. 

“I love Jeff’s story because I think it’s probably a pretty classic example of how Ed touched people’s lives,” she said. 

For Jean and her two sons, Jed and Terry, the endowment is a perfect way to honor him. 

“Just knowing what Ed went through his struggle I couldn’t ask for anything better for him to be honored like this, to be recognized for what he accomplished and appreciated for what he gave,” she said.