By Sandy Mittelsteadt, Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
It has recently come to my attention through Andrea Wright, an almond grower’s wife, that Bakersfield lost an outstanding Ag teacher named Chris Dickson last June. Many of you may know the Dickson family or at least have heard of them, because the Dickson family has deep roots in Kern County. I thought you would like to learn more about Chris Dickson and her life and the difference she made. Chris’s sister, Caroline Dickson Berry, will tell her story.
There is just something about growing up out in the country. Perhaps, life lessons are more obvious and clearer. Perhaps, being able to enjoy God’s gift is just easier! Growing up as the oldest of twelve children, I’d like to share my story of my sister Christine (Chris) Dickson, who passed away on June 8, 2020. Our parents were Bob and Constance Dickson. Our Father, Dr. Dickson was one of the local Kern County Veterinarians and our Grandfather, Howard K. Dickson was one of the first Kern County Fair Board members.
We grew up in the country on Stine Road, and Chris attended Panama Elementary School and graduated in 1968 from West High School. She wanted to join the West High School Future Farmers of America (FFA), but it was only for boys, so she signed up as Chris. She was disqualified when they found out she was a girl.
Chris loved to be outside in God’s country. She had a passion for animals and was active in the Panama 4-H Club showing her dairy cattle and sheep. She won several showmanship and champion awards at the Kern County Fair, California State Fair and the Junior Cow Palace. She attended Bakersfield College and Colorado State University continuing her Agricultural Studies and then took some time off and spent four years in British Honduras (Belize) as a Peace Corp Volunteer. She returned to Colorado State and earned her Bachelor of Science (BS) and Agricultural Teaching Credential in 1976. She was the only female in her graduating class of agriculture teachers.
Chris started her teaching tenure career in 1976-1978 at Arvin High School; she, then taught one year at Tehachapi High School from 1979-1980. In 1980, she married Ken Harris and taught four years at Hilmar High School 1980-1985. Returning to Bakersfield she started to teach at North High School from 1985-2009 where she started and developed one of the strongest single person Agricultural High School Departments in the United States. At the start of her 35-year tenure, Chris was one of five female agricultural teachers. (Today, women make up 40% of all agricultural teachers.)
Chris was, simply put, a great student-oriented teacher. She was a true role model for all her students with an unbelievable work ethic. Chris was North High School’s FFA advisor providing her students with leadership, personal growth and career opportunities. Her students participated in local activities including cooking and serving breakfast at the Kern County Farm Bureau Teachers’ Ag Seminar. (In fact, Sandy Mittelsteadt was a big part of the agricultural program for teachers.) Chris’s North High students earned many state and national awards. One of them won the Agri-Entrepreneur Award.
After retiring, she continued to stay active in service to others. In addition to working on her ranch in Woody, where she raised sheep and sold the lambs to the 4-H and FFA students. (It is interesting to note that in the Bible, sheep are mentioned more than 500 times. Sheep were important to the nomads and agricultural life of the Hebrews and similar peoples. Sheep are used throughout the Bible to symbolically refer to God’s people.)
Chris also taught part-time at Paramount High School in Delano and served as an agricultural teacher trainer in Haiti on the University of California Davis’s Outreach Project to develop an Agricultural Education Program for high school age Haitian students.
In 2017, Chris was the first female to be inducted into the California Agricultural Teachers Hall of Fame (CATA). She joins her husband, Ken Harris; her grandfather, Howard K. Dickson; and her mentor, Lloyd Hokit in receiving this prestigious honor. Chris was active in the CATA throughout the state levels and nationally. At the state level, she was a representative to the BOARS committee to defend Ag Biology as an alternative college prep and graduation requirement. She wrote and published a binder of agriculture standards and labs that used microscopes, and distributed one to every high school agriculture program in California. Chris also represented agriculture as an appointee of Governors’ Deukmejian and Wilson on the State Council of Vocational Education serving as their President eight of her twelve years on the council. At the national level, Chris took students to the National FFA Convention with their Agri-science boards to exhibit and induce the National FFA to adopt a national level competition. She extended her service nationally with various Agri-science workshops and presentations.
I believe Chris’s life on earth best exemplified her belief in Faith, Family and Farming. We, as a community, acknowledge all her contributions to Kern County’s Agricultural Industry. All of us siblings revered her as our ‘Pack Leader.’ And, as her health declined, her quiet faith and prayers became more visible and a more significant part of her life’s journey. I am truly blessed to be her sister and know that she is now resting peacefully in God’s hands.
By Caroline Dickson Berry
Thank you, Caroline, for sharing the story of your fabulous sister and her legacy to agriculture in Kern County. It is interesting to know how Chris lived her life and her impact on others. May her life serve as an example to us!