Celebrating the Past, Looking Toward the Future

6/28/2014 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent

Va. 4-H Congress Holds Annual Awards Banquet

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Members of Virginia’s 2014 4-H Congress at Virginia Tech celebrated the past and looked to the future during a birthday celebration June 18.

Dr. Cathy Sutphin, director of 4-H youth development for Virginia Cooperative Extension, told the group that Virginia 4-H boasts a membership of 185,000, and the cream of the crop was seated in the room.

“Celebrating the Past” was the theme of the 94th Virginia 4-H Congress, which marked the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act that gave birth to Cooperative Extension.

“It’s great to celebrate what you have accomplished, but don’t stop there,” said Dr. Edwin J. “Ed” Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension, speaking to the group. “Extension and land-grant universities changed the face of the world. Celebrate and look ahead to what we are going to do tomorrow.”

Sutphin and Jones were joined by the deans of both of the state’s land-grant universities, a volunteer leader and a member of the faculty of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dee Whittier, professor at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, traced the beginning of Extension back even further than 100 years to the middle of the Civil War in his presentation of the history of land-grant universities and what they have meant to this nation.

“If we are going to be anything, we’ve got to be educated,” Whittier quoted congressional leaders of the 1860s as saying. He noted that while colleges of the time dealt with concepts, they did not meet the needs of the common man.

Whittier credited leaders of those days with putting together a plan to meet the needs of the common man, a plan that gave birth to the colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts at the land-grant universities.

Whittier noted that Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation in the midst of the Civil War: The Morrill Act of 1862.

Subsequent legislative acts enabled the programs at land-grant universities to grow: the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which enabled funding of land-grant colleges; the Hatch Act of 1887, which authorized funding for agricultural experiment stations; and the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which created the Cooperative Extension system.

As always, funding proved to be a problem. Congress did not have any money for the new colleges, Whittier noted, but it did have land it could grant to the states for the new schools. As Whittier explained, the federal government granted lands it controlled to the states to fund and endow these colleges.

Today, every state in the union has a land-grant college. Virginia has two: Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and Virginia State University in Petersburg.

Alan Grant, dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, shared the importance 4-H has played in his own life.

“It’s been a big part of my life,” Grant told the group. “It’s really shaped where I ended up. It’s had a tremendous impact.”

He challenged the young people to continue the 100 years of Extension’s success.

“We rely on you,” he said. “Put those skills to work. Society needs you. Your communities need you.”

He invited the delegates, most of whom are still in high school, to come back to Virginia Tech as students.

Dr. Jewel Hairston, dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University, also challenge the group of 4-H’ers.

“Never be satisfied with the status quo,” she said. “Continue to be game changers.”

Sutphin and the other administrators thanked the 14,000 adult volunteer leaders across the state who work with the 4-H program. Sutphin recognized Dr. Mary Guy Miller, who started as a 4-H mom and developed her career in the agency. Miller is the new president of the Virginia 4-H Foundation, which helps to financially support 4-H across the state.

“Mary is a person who cares about the child who needs a hand up,” Sutphin said.

“You represent the future of Virginia and of this country,” Miller told the 4-H’ers. “Your leadership is going to be needed more and more.”

The program then changed from serious to celebratory as Dr. Bob Matthews, director emeritus of Virginia 4-H, wheeled in a cart bearing a 100th Birthday Cake and leading the group in singing “Happy Birthday Extension.” He was accompanied by the 4-H Clover.

Before the cake could be cut, the icon of Virginia Tech, the Hokie Bird, had joined the cast of characters. He’s always found where the action is in this university town.

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