The University of Arizona (UA) College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will soon say goodbye to the so-called "gang of four" that helped lead the college to where it is today.

A retirement reception was held recently to honor Dean Eugene Sander, who has spent more than two decades at the UA, as well as his colleagues in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Colin Kaltenbach, vice dean and director of the college's agricultural experiment station; Jim Christenson, associate dean of extension; and Dave Cox, associate dean of academic programs.

Collectively, they have served the UA for more than 95 years.

"This has been an extraordinary leadership team, and it's not replaceable at all," said UA Provost Meredith Hay during a brief presentation at the reception outside the Arizona State Museum.

During the event, President Robert N. Shelton presented Sander with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

"If I can become half the leader that you have been in your career, I will be a very happy and content man," Shelton said.

Shelton also made a surprise announcement that a conference room in McClelland Park, home of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' John and Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, will be named for Sander.

It was 1987 when Sander took the reins of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which now employees more than 1,500 people and awards more than 600 degrees a year. He also served as the UA's executive vice president and provost from July 2007 to April 2008 and spent two years as the University's vice president for outreach.

Throughout his 24 years on campus, he's watched the University grow significantly and guided his college through a number of financial challenges.

In addition to his academic leadership, he has been actively involved with fundraising and is credited with raising more than $150 million in private gifts for his college.

In 2008, the UA Foundation established the Eugene G. Sander Endowed Faculty Fundraising Award, given annually to a University faculty member who has shown fundraising leadership at the UA.

The foundation also recently announced that Sander and his wife, Louise Canfield Sander, have established the Sander/Canfield Graduate Student Support Endowment to support graduate students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

James H. Moore Jr., president of the UA Foundation, announced during the reception that the UA Foundation is also providing Sander with a $25,000 gift to put into the endowment of his choice.

Sander, whose interest in agriculture began when he was a boy growing up on a Minnesota farm, said in an interview that he's proud of his college's achievements over the past two decades, including its consistent student-centered focus and its research productivity.

A biochemist by training, Sander has a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota, which he attended on a football scholarship, and has master's and doctoral degrees from Cornell University. He came to the UA from Texas A&M University, where he was a deputy chancellor.

Sander, 75, describes himself as a man who's always been defined by his work rather than his hobbies, a sentiment his daughter, Kathy, echoed during her father's retirement reception when she told the crowd, "As most of you know, my father, Gene Sander, lived and breathed his role as Dean Gene."

When it comes to his post-retirement plans, Sander joked in an interview, "That first Monday morning I'm not going to have to go to work I'll probably be in a total panic. But, my wife is a very smart lady. I think she's got the first month pretty well programmed so I'm not going to have too much free time."

Sander will move with his wife to Texas to be near his daughter and her two sons. Besides spending time with his grandchildren, he said he'll also work on his hobby of restoring old automobiles. He also has a son and two granddaughters in California.

Sander said he'll miss working with his colleagues as one of the "four amigos" when he retires in June.

"We're nationally unique. We really are. There is not another team in the United States that has worked together anywhere close to as long as we have," he said.

Kaltenbach, who will retire in October after 22 years at the UA, said working with Sander has been an unforgettable experience.

"He's a tremendous leader and has been a great dean. It's been a pleasure working with him," he said in an interview.

Among the things Kaltenbach says he'll miss most about the UA is watching his college's faculty succeed, seeing the college's growth and development and, last but not least, season tickets to UA men's basketball games.

Kaltenbach, who directs the college's research program, was honored during the reception when Sander announced the college would rename the Research Faculty of the Year Award the Colin Kaltenbach Research Faculty of the Year Award.

Christenson, who also has served the college for 22 years and will retire in June, oversees the college's 35 extension offices in 13 of Arizona's 15 counties. He said in an interview that he "wanted to go out on top," retiring along with his long-time colleagues.

"I've been blessed to work with a great team, and the thing I liked most and I will miss most is all the people," Christenson said during the retirement reception, where Sander announced an award in his name, the James A. Christenson Extension Faculty Award of the Year.

Sander also announced that the college's Faculty Teaching Award would be renamed the David E. Cox Faculty Teaching Award in honor of Cox, who has worked at the UA for more than 27 years, the last 16 of them as associate dean for academic programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Cox, who has taught at the high school, community college and university level, said he's been especially proud of the success of graduates from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

He said he looks forward to spending time with his wife when he retires.

"I appreciate everything this college has done for me," Cox said.

A search for a new dean and administrative team for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is under way.