Scuse named 2018 Kent Distinguished Citizen by Boy Scouts

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse, center, receives the 2018 Kent County Distinguished Citizen Award Wednesday night from Delaware Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and master of ceremonies Kenny Bounds, left, and Del-Mar-Va Council Boy Scouts of America Executive and CEO Bill Garrett. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

DOVER — When it came time for John Carney to pick a secretary of agriculture two years ago, the then-governor-elect picked someone he knew quite well.

He selected Michael Scuse, making him the first person to hold the position under two governors. Few people are more qualified for the job, which Mr. Scuse previously held from 2001 to 2008 under then-Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, when Gov. Carney was lieutenant governor.

Wednesday night, Mr. Scuse was honored for his decades of service and work in the agricultural field, receiving the 2018 Kent Distinguished Citizen Award from the Boy Scouts of America’s Del-Mar-Va Council. Past recipients include former Vice President Joe Biden, Delaware Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan and Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Brooks Banta.

Winners, according to the Boy Scouts of America, are picked “for their outstanding service as evidenced by their leadership to many worthwhile organizations, as well as the respect and esteem in which they are held by their colleagues.”

“I can’t think of a better person to stand for agriculture,” Sen. Chris Coons said in a brief pre-recorded video played during the ceremony.

A lifelong farmer and native Delawarean, Mr. Scuse has deep ties to both Kent County and agriculture — he currently lives on a corn, soybean and wheat farm in Smyrna.

Mr. Scuse addresses the audience in Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Diamond Room Wednesday night. He is the only person to hold the position of state secretary of agriculture under two governors.

In 1986, the Democrat was elected Kent County recorder of deeds. He was re-elected four years later but lost his bid for a third term in 1994 and then spent five years as chairman of both the Kent Regional Planning Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency State Committee.

In 2001, he was named Delaware secretary of agriculture, a position he held until becoming Gov. Minner’s chief of staff near the end of her second term. During his time running the agency, he served as vice president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and president of the Northeast Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

After Gov. Minner left office, Mr. Scuse worked as deputy undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services in the federal government. In 2012, he was nominated by President Barack Obama and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and confirmed by the Senate to be the under secretary.

In that role, one of the top positions in the agency, he worked to help farmers stay profitable in the face of bad weather and changing markets.

Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse, left, receives a tribute from the state House of Representatives presented by Rep. William J. Carson, D-Smyrna. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

He ended his tenure in Washington by spending a week as acting secretary of the agency after Mr. Vilsack stepped down in January 2017 in the final days of the Obama administration.

“He was the last guy to turn the lights out,” Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kenny Bounds joked Wednesday night.

From there, Mr. Scuse was selected as Delaware’s chief agriculture officer for the second time.

“There are those who view public service as not being glamorous enough or worthwhile, but I find it to be all of that and much more,” he said during Wednesday’s ceremony at Dover Downs.

“There can be nothing more rewarding than making a difference in people’s lives, from helping them navigate through the bureaucracy and helping them to solve problems, to providing relief in times of natural disaster or other difficulties. Public service can be extremely rewarding.”

Mr. Scuse received tributes from the state House of Representatives and from Kent County Levy Court, with Levy Court President Brooks Banta praising him as someone who “does epitomize the scout law” of being “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

During his time with the federal government, he traveled to other countries, making friendships with foreign officials — so much so that the Chinese vice minister of agriculture on a recent trip to the United States contacted Mr. Scuse to arrange a visit, according to Mr. Bounds. He’s also won several awards throughout his time in office.

Eagle Scouts Timothy Dziubinsky, left, and Kade Evans, from Boy Scout Troop 135 in Smyrna, speak at the Kent Distinguished Citizen Award Dinner Wednesday night.

When Mr. Bounds noted that Mr. Scuse enjoys shooting sporting clays, sometimes in competition with Gov. Carney, Mr. Scuse interjected to note he defeated the governor last time, prompting laughs from the audience.

The secretary closed his speech by urging listeners to work alongside one another “to stop the hatred, to stop the violence, to stop the finger-pointing at one another to place blame,” receiving applause from the dozens in attendance.

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