In 1970, Ag Leadership’s frst class of 30 farmers and allied industry
representatives were inaugurated into what would become the most
respected and longest-running leadership development program of
its kind. It would be six years before women were allowed into the
program. In 1976, Ag Leadership’s frst women—Judy Camarillo, Lyra
Halprin and Jean Rotta—were inaugurated alongside their 27 male
classmates to form Class 7.
As pioneers in Ag Leadership, Camarillo, Halprin and Rotta say they
were proud to have earned their spot in the elite program. Although
they came from diverse backgrounds and had diferent experiences,
all three agree that the program was an impactful and life-changing
Judy Camarillo

Q: How did it feel to be in the first class that
accepted women?
It was a tremendous privilege. It took a lot of guts for
all the interviewers to pick three women who would
be part of the class. When I read all of the stuf that
the female alumni have done, I feel very strongly that
the women have proved themselves to be a vital part
of the Ag Leadership Program.

We blazed a trail. From a personal and professional standpoint, the
California Ag Leadership Program has been unbelievably valuable
to me and it has given me a perspective to raise my three daughters
and given me a perspective in management. I’ve spent 40-50 years in
personnel management and everyday I use something that I learned in
Ag Leadership.

We came out of it with so much of a world view. When I look at
what’s on the news and what’s happening, I understand it so much
better because of the time I spent in Washington, D.C. and on our
international seminar.
Q: What kind of obstacles did you encounter during your time
in the program?
We were under a microscope. I’m sure that the powers that be were
really worried about what women would do to the program. Would
we step up to the plate? Everyone was watching, holding their breath.
It was a risky feeling for them—the board, the interviewers. Maybe
afer a few classes they didn’t notice the women as much, but they darn
sure noticed in Class 7.
In the 1960s I had done a lot of things where I was the frst woman, so
I knew that I would face a lot of the old time thinking. I was the frst
female ag appraiser for Bank of America and I was the frst woman in
the Mackay School of Mines. I was the only woman at the school and
mining was very masculine. I had a professor tell me, “You got two
choices lady, you can either drop this class, or you can get an automatic
F.” A lot of the hard knocks I had were before Ag Leadership—so
every time someone said something that was uncomplimentary, I took
it with a grain of salt.
Q: What leadership lessons did you take away from the
Number one was that there are no personnel problems, only
management problems. Either you have picked the wrong person,
you are not giving them enough incentive or you’re not giving them
enough authority.

Class 7: Ag Leadership’s First Women




Q: Did the program impact your professional life?
Completely. Everything I do from a professional standpoint in
management can go right back to what we learned in the programs
that the individual universities put on. Tose were absolutely
incredible. It helped me take a look and realize what my failings were.
Tere isn’t a day that I don’t use something I learned in Ag Leadership.
Q: How did the program impact your personal life?
Tat was a little tougher. When I would come back, I was exhausted
and had learned so much. Your partner wants to know what you
learned. Up until I was in Ag Leadership, I was always the one that
everyone depended on at home to make decisions, the pressure was
always on me to make everything happen.
It was a whole diferent world then when a woman stepped out of a
family and came back changed. I don’t want to make that sound harsh,
but it just changes a relationship. My then husband was used to having
me there with him and all of a sudden I wasn’t there—it was tough. I
won’t sugar coat it. Tat did cause me signifcant amounts of grief.
I think the women who come into the program now have it diferently
because it was a whole diferent world back then. Women have been
through everything. Both the men and the women expect something
diferent than we did then—it’s diferent expectations because of the
fact that we were raised diferently. It’s eye opening to see how in later
generations, men are willing to take on a broader role at home.
Q: What is your advice to someone who is considering
applying to the program?
I think whether they are female or male, prepare to go in with an open
mind. If you’re at the top of the local food chain, this program will
make you realize you are a small cog in a big wheel. I don’t care if you
are a woman or man. Open your eyes, open your mind and let yourself
Keep in mind that not all class members learn or grow at the same
rate. Te thing that impressed me was that I knew some people who
had preconceived notions that were unbelievable. Regardless of how
stubborn some people were, they did learn and they did grow. One of
the things that Ag Leadership does—and it happened in my class—
was that some people needed to have their eyes opened and I believe
that when they went back to their communities they did not see it the
same as they did before the program.
Q: What was the single most impactful part of the program for
Te trip to the Soviet Union. We got there at the end of the Cold War
and we took our preconceived notions over there. We started looking
at things and learned and listened to the people. Tings were very
diferent. Your whole world view is diferent. What you learn and see
is incredible.

Jean Rotta
Q: How did it feel to be in the first class that
accepted women?
Ag Leadership was a very good experience for me.

However, that wasn’t the only thing that I was the frst woman in.
When Cal Poly San Luis Obispo went coed, I was the frst there too.
Q: What kind of obstacles did you encounter during your time
in the program?
It seems to me that my time in the program went all rather smoothly.
I can’t think that there were any problems with my classmates or
anybody that I was interacting with.
Q: What leadership lessons did you take away from the
We learned how to work along with other people in and out of our
industry and come up with ideas. It also helped me learn to speak
forward about certain issues that might have been problems at the
time. Ag Leadership helped me deal with problems with my own
operation and problems that were afecting other people at the time. It
gave me some background and maybe helped me learn to stand up and
deal with and be proactive about important issues.
Q: Did the program impact your professional life?
Yes, I would say it did. It certainly helped me be a better spokesperson,
whether it be with my CattleWomen’s association, or here in my
immediate valley. It helped me help a lot of people with important
projects and issues in our area.
Q: How did the program impact your personal life?
It helped me to intermingled with people that I might not have
met before. When various projects came up that needed attention,
it helped me to reach out about local and industry issues that were
Q: What is your advice to someone who is considering
applying to the program?
I would certainly encourage them to apply because you get such a wide
overview of state and national problems and issues and you can learn
more about them and proceed in a way that may help make things
better for lots of other people.
Q: What was the most impactful part of the program for you?
Te program certainly helped me to be able to put my thinking cap on
and come up with better questions for whatever the problem might be
at the time. It also helped me to fnd better answers to the problems
we were facing.

Lyra Halprin
Q: How did it feel to be in the first class that
accepted women?
I was really proud. I was amazed that it took so long
for women to be accepted, but that’s not a surprise—
women have been wondering about that for years. I
was 25 years old and I was a reporter for the Daily
Democrat in Woodland, but I was also helping my sister and mother
run our walnut ranch in Yuba City afer the sudden death of my
father. I applied to the program because I’d interviewed several local
men who were in previous classes and they suggested that I apply.

Class 7: Ag Leadership’s First Women



Q: What kind of obstacles did you encounter during your time in
the program?
It was like being dropped in the middle of a fraternity. People told me I’d
taken the place of men who should’ve been in the program. To suddenly
have women dropped into a group of all men—that was a huge thing.
Tere were a lot of great guys in the program and I made a lot of friends,
but it was rough.
I also think my experience was diferent because I came from a completely
diferent background from most people in the program. Growing up I
lived half the year in Southern California, where my musician mother
worked, and then we all lived in Yuba City during the summers and other
school breaks. I enjoyed Ag Leadership and particularly loved the travel.
Because of my background and because I’d traveled before, I already
had an international point of view. I was born six years afer Auschwitz
was liberated and had family members who died there, so I had such a
diferent background. What I learned in Ag Leadership was more about
farming, and what my classmates learned was more about the world.
Q: How did the obstacles impact your experience?
I was already progressive politically because of personal family
experience. Te program made me a stronger feminist. I wanted good job
opportunities and when people told me I had taken a man’s spot in the
program, I was stunned by that attitude. I did understand more about
running our farm by learning from these guys, but I don’t think they saw
me as a real farm partner, or maybe even Ag Leadership partner.
Te two years in the program were an eye-opener for me and it was also
a little discouraging. I was 25 and in a peak career-learning period. My
interaction with the guys in Ag Leadership gave me a little preview about
what I’d be facing down the road and gave me a lot to think about.
I also felt like a bridge between generations. I was in the second wave of
feminists who wanted to work and shocked men by sharing power with
them. We wanted a seat at the table and it was tricky at times everywhere
for women, including in Ag Leadership.
Q: What leadership lessons did you take away from the
I learned from exposure to people like the astronaut we met—Gerald
Carr—who made me feel like I could do anything. I’ve never forgotten
how I felt. He inspired me to be whatever I wanted. So exposure to
people like that on a very personal level was fantastic. I’ve never forgotten
that experience, which was a really signifcant thing for me.
On that same trip in the south, we went to Southern University near
Baton Rouge, one of the historically black colleges and I was appalled to
see how crummy the facilities were. Ten we went to the big campus of
Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge that was predominantly white
and it was a very diferent experience because it was richly endowed.
It was fun to be around people who were not afraid. I have never had
trouble speaking out. I write a lot of letters to the editor, I have been
a strong leader for various groups throughout my life. I think I was
probably going to do those things anyway.

Q: Did the program impact your professional life?
I think it helped me especially since I spent most of my career writing
about agriculture. Te program helped me understand some farmers and
ag industry people more. Ag Leadership has changed a lot though. I think
there’s more for me to relate to now because it’s a more diverse program.
It’s particularly inspiring for me to watch the women in the program now.
Q: How did the program impact your personal life?
Spending part of two years in a “fraternity” was an eye-opener. It
challenged me on what I thought about being a woman and helped defne
me as a feminist. I understood more about what women all over the
world face and helped make me more of an activist.
Q: What is your advice to someone who is considering applying
to the program?
I think it’s a good program and I’m really glad it has evolved. It’s more
of a refection of California agriculture today, which is wonderful.
Ag Leadership changed a lot in the 41 years since I participated. Te
program evolved and it’s wonderful. It’s more difcult when people refuse
to change. But I don’t think that’s the case with Ag Leadership. We’ve
evolved quite a bit and I’m proud of that. Te program couldn’t have
lasted otherwise. I love looking at the pictures and seeing that evolution.
If you want to make a diference in ag, you have to refect all of it.
Te program is probably more interesting now because there is more
diversity in general, and more women in particular. Tat’s a more realistic
representation of our world. It was silly that there was ever a point when
women weren’t allowed in the program. I’m sure we—the women—are
part of the reason the program is better now.