ELKO - Tony Lesperance may be leaving his position as Nevada state agriculture director at the beginning of February, but agriculture will forever be a part of his life.
"My experience in Nevada was started in 1948 and will probably continue until God takes me home," Lesperance told the Elko Daily Free Press.
"This has been an experience of a lifetime. I'm totally fascinated by rural Nevada and agriculture and the opportunity I've had to be involved in that is cherished beyond belief."
Lesperance, 75, grew up in a rural community in Southern California. He said that in 1948, at the age of 13, his father tried to curb Lesperance's bad behavior by sending him to work on a ranch near Topaz Lake.
"It was the first day of the rest of my life," Lesperance said. "I realized how hard things are, how beautiful ranching was and it completely changed my life. Like turning on a light bulb, it was that quick, and it's been every minute of my life since."
Lesperance said state lawmakers need to know that agriculture produces $2.5 billion annually for the Nevada economy.
While he wanted to make it through the legislative session this year and fight for agriculture, he said newly elected Gov. Brian Sandoval decided to replace him.
Lesperance said he has mixed feelings about retiring to his ranch north of Winnemucca.
"I think after all these years it will be nice to watch it all from a distance," Lesperance said.
But he said he plans to continue to speak out for agriculture long after he leaves his state position behind.
From his first day on the ranch, Lesperance said he fell in love with Nevada.
Through his years in high school and college at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, he went back to work on the ranch every summer.
With the guidance of his parents, Lesperance went on to receive his master's degree at the University of Nevada in 1959, and the university offered him a temporary position.
He went on to work as a professor with tenure until 1983.
"They were a fabulous experience. I loved teaching," Lesperance said.
Lesperance loved his experience at the university, but said it was time to leave when it began to de-emphasize agriculture.
"I fought that battle and I said 'to hell with it' because it broke my heart," he said.
Lesperance moved to Elko, bought a store from a friend, and opened a business called Great Basin Agriculture.
The business focused on ranch management, products and equipment, but also on the reclamation of land from mining activity.
For almost 20 years he worked with mining agencies and reclaimed more than 5,000 acres of disturbed land sites all over Nevada.
Lesperance ran unopposed in 1997 and became an Elko County commissioner.
He said the sale of Elko General Hospital was an extremely contentious issue, but he deemed it a success.
The public voted in a special election to oppose paying additional taxes to keep the hospital, and the county sold it.
"I think it was a success because Elko County has a beautiful hospital, so I think that was one of my best accomplishments," Lesperance said.
In 2000, Lesperance's last year as commissioner, he decided to quit politics, sell his store and retire to his newly purchased ranch in Paradise Valley.
The relaxation ended when in 2006, the Nevada Department of Agriculture started to have real problems.
"Jim Gibbons became governor and I forewarned him I was aware of problems that he needed to be aware of because this would directly fall under him as governor and they went through directors, and nothing got resolved," Lesperance said.
In 2008, Lesperance agreed to head the department.
Lesperance said the department's budget has been cut so deeply that his number one role as director was to make sure no one shut the door on the entire department.
"Agriculture is such a wonderful thing to be involved in. The grassroots of agriculture is what made this country and having it be the driving force in my life I look back and think 'How lucky can I be?'"