The Pursells are the recipients of the 2012 Auburn University Lifetime Achievement Award. Given by the College of Human Sciences, the award acknowledges those who have brought distinguished recognition to the university and/or the state of Alabama.
The Pursells were selected for their entrepreneurial success through Pursell Technologies and the establishment of Pursell Farms and FarmLinks, as well as their philanthropic and civic work, which includes the foundation of at least three student programs at Auburn.
“Jimmy and Chris Pursell are the embodiment of the values so eloquently expressed in the Auburn Creed,” said June Henton, dean of Auburn’s College of Human Sciences. “Highly respected as entrepreneurs, civic leaders and philanthropists, their impact is widespread throughout the state, but perhaps nowhere more greatly appreciated than Auburn University.”
Jimmy Pursell, a 1952 Auburn graduate in business administration, said they are delighted by the recognition from his alma mater.
“This is wonderful,” he said. “It is certainly one of the bigger honors I have ever received. To be honored over a broad scale like this, I really appreciate it from them.”
Growing the family business
Married in 1953, the couple’s journey toward entrepreneurial success began three years later when they joined Parker Fertilizer Company, the family fertilizer and cotton ginning business owned by Chris Pursell’s father, Howard Parker.
Parker rightly predicted that cotton was leaving the area and asked his son-in-law to look into the lawn and garden fertilizer business. Soon after, Jimmy Pursell developed Sta-Green, a brand of slow-release fertilizers ideal for home lawns, golf courses and ornamental nurseries, and the business quickly expanded to serve much of the Eastern United States.
Over the next three decades, the company, which evolved into Pursell Technologies, built a sulfur-coated urea manufacturing plant, one of only four in the world, and launched POLYON technology, a programmable, time-released fertilizer that changed the agronomy industry.
“It turned out to be sort of a homerun, and it’s still the best we know of,” Jimmy Pursell said.
David Pursell, Jimmy and Chris Pursells’ son and CEO of FarmLinks, said all of these developments were huge steps for what was a relatively small company.
“The fact that we, a small fertilizer business in Sylacauga, Ala., were now in the technology business coming from the agricultural world was huge,” he said. “We were leap-frogging companies that were much, much bigger.”
One of a kind
By the ‘90s, Pursell Technologies was doing all of its business outside Alabama, and once again, they did something that had never before been done.
“Since we were trying to sell golf courses and ornamental nurseries this space-aged POLYON technology, we thought it would be much more effective if we could build a real, living laboratory showcase for what these products could do, rather than us hiring traveling salespeople to show a PowerPoint presentation in local Holiday Inns,” David Pursell said. “Nobody had ever created a destination like that before we did it. It was a very, very gutsy move.”
With that idea, FarmLinks golf course was opened in 2003 on part of the 3,500 acres that makes up Pursell Farms in Fayetteville — the result of “a son with more vision than I have money!” Jimmy Pursell joked.
The first-ever research and demonstration golf course, thousands of professionals visit the No.1-rated public course annually to learn about the latest in golf course technology and innovations.
In 2006, the family sold its business, save the golf course and farm, to Agrium Advanced Technologies, and now they are ready to build their brand again as they expand FarmLinks.
“That’s the American Dream, to be able to grow something enough to where you can sell it, and then you take that money and start something else,” David Pursell said. “We began in 1904 with (Chris Pursell’s) grandfather, then it went to her father, then it went to my father. We had some form of the company for 102 years. Now we’re kind of back to where my great-great grandfather was, to just owning a lot of land and farming, plus the golf course.”
The Golden Rule
The Pursells maintained their business, which publicly operated under Christian principles, as a family affair. At one point, the couple and their three children — Taylor, Chris and David — all worked for the company.
More so than business, however, the parents taught their children the importance of giving back to the community. At its peak, the Pursell companies created more than 250 local jobs, and to this day, Jimmy and Chris Pursell support many organizations and charities.
“It’s always more fun to give than it is to receive,” Jimmy Pursell said. “We all like to use the Golden Rule, and I know our children also do a heck of a lot in the way of helping people.”
Among others, the Pursells have long supported B.B. Comer Library, the Sylacauga and Talladega County school foundations, Fayetteville School, Boys Club and Coosa Valley Medical Center. They also founded the Jimmy and Chris Pursell Champions Program, which provides mentoring for Auburn University athletes, along with curriculums in ethical cultures and public gardening.
“If we do anything good from a philanthropic standpoint, it’s because it was exampled to us by my mom and dad,” David Pursell said. “It’s just so important that you learn to give by watching others give. If you live your life like that, you can make a difference in the world.”
He said his parents also taught them the value of commitment to one another.
“In this day, people tend to live for better but not for worse, so I think it’s rare and special to have such a strong example of marriage,” David Pursell said.
Of the 59 years spent with his wife, Jimmy Pursell said they remain “truly happy.”
“It’s been great, and we’re so proud of all our children and grandchildren,” he said.
This is home
Looking forward, the Pursell family plans to do what it does best – grow its business and support the community.
“What we’re proudest of right now is what you see out here,” David Pursell said of FarmLinks. “To have the No.1 public golf course in the state is a real accomplishment, and we want to make it even more of a destination point as we grow.”
With visitors from all over the world, he said they are proud to attract people to Talladega County.
“People who visit this area are always amazed at how beautiful it is, and it really is a great part of the state,” he said. “And for us, this is home. We can drive a few minutes every direction from here and come up with all kinds of stories. It’s just where we’re from, and we like to get involved in anything that helps Talladega County.”
Jimmy and Chris Pursell, along with their children and each of their spouses, will travel to the United Nations in New York on Dec. 3 to receive their Lifetime Achievement award at a special ceremony, where they will be introduced by lifelong friend and Sylacauga native Jim Nabors.
Jimmy Pursell said they are excited for the trip and humbled to receive recognition for their achievements — the effects of which are evident throughout Auburn, the state, the community and beyond.
Contact Emily Adams at email@example.com.