More Jackson County Opinions...

AUGUST 25, 2004


Column

By: Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
August 25, 2004

They call me ‘Uncle Virgil’
My, how time flies! The older one gets, it flies faster and faster and faster.
But has it really been 52 years? The spring 2004 edition of Wingspan, newsletter of the Rock Eagle 4-H Center, says it has.
“Rock Eagle to Celebrate 50 Year Anniversary” is the headline. The second paragraph of the story begins, “The following excerpts were taken from a 1952 bulletin describing what the 4-H Center would be like.”
“Visualize 72 cottages lining the banks of a 110 acre lake; dining and recreation halls for 1,200; demonstration buildings and workshops; beyond this, green pastures where the camp’s supply of beef grazes; and finally, back in the vast expanse of woods, wildlife. This is the 4-H dream camp planned for Rock Eagle.”
I ain’t braggin’, but I wrote that. During land acquisition, groundbreaking, construction, dedication and opening of that project, I wrote a zillion words and took a thousand pictures, and contributed more to the cause then I ever did before or since.
I was not sure, exactly, what the cause was, but I am sure that those five years (1950-1955) were some of my most productive and enjoyable in a journalism career that started on The College News at Murray State University in 1946 and is continuing at The Jackson Herald in 2004.
And so I hope you will bear with the old man as he looks back in time and reminisces a bit before time flies away for good.
I was 29 years old in 1952, had been married five years, and was the father of Mary’s two children. The GI Bill didn’t pay much, so I dropped out of graduate school at the University of Georgia and went to work for the Cooperative Extension Service, which includes the 4-H program.
In McLemoresville, Tenn. (population 311 if you count dogs, cats and chickens), I had never heard of 4-H. All we knew about was Future Farmers of America.
Farming was my granddaddy’s past, my daddy’s present, and my brother and I thought farming would be our future. World War II changed our minds.
Part of my job with Extension was writing about agriculture and home economics. But my main beat was 4-H, and although I was only 29, 4-H’ers all over the state started calling me “Uncle Virgil.”
I liked that.
I learned early on that a top priority was doing something about inadequate 4-H camping facilities. A large, centrally located camp or center where 1,000 to 1,200 boys and girls could come together for inspiration and education had been talked about all through the 1940s.
The Georgia 4-H Club Foundation was organized in November, 1948, and that set the stage for the next step.
At that time, I was about to get out of Murray State and enroll at the University of Missouri to work on my master’s in journalism. Had Claire been a “good” baby, I’d probably be in the Show Me State today. (Fate and circumstance have an awful lot to do with where you wind up in life.) Claire was a good baby; she just cried night and day for six months, and Mary said she needed to go home to Jefferson “so Mama can help me with this baby.” So I became a Bulldog instead of a Tiger.
But I digress.
On December 12, 1950, the 4-H Foundation took that next step. According to the minutes, members “adopted plans for a 1200-capacity 4-H Club Center, and the group adjourned for lunch at 1 p.m.”
At lunch there was more enthusiasm than hunger and more talking than eating. They had their Foundation, each 4-H’er was giving a dozen eggs and raising money, and the six Extension Service districts had promised to come up with $60,000.
And 1,452 acres of land and 110-acre Rock Eagle Lake had been acquired. That came about when supervisors of the Upper Ocmulgee and Piedmont Soil Conservation Districts recommended that the Secretary of Agriculture terminate their lease to land that once was “barren, eroded, ‘cottoned’ to death and tax delinquent.” And the 110-acre lake was part of the deal.
Said Frank T. Denham, field secretary of the State Soil and Water Conservation Committee: “I thought a good job of soil conservation had been done at Rock Eagle, but I insisted from the beginning that the crop of boys and girls in Georgia is the most important crop to be conserved.”
The land where the 4-H Center stands, now covered with stately pines, was sub-marginal and almost abandoned - not even paying taxes - when the government bought it in 1935.
It was into that briar patch that this Tennessee farm boy was thrown, and for the next five years he felt just as much at home and had just as much fun as Brer Rabbit did in his.
My love affair with Rock Eagle began in 1950 and was a whirlwind relationship for the next five years. When the Center opened in 1955, we settled down a bit and enjoyed each other’s company in a more relaxed atmosphere for the next 27 years. Although I left Extension for other work in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, we were still very close. When I returned in 1962, it was like I’d never been gone.
I retired from Extension in 1982 and have had no official connection with Rock Eagle and 4-H’ers for the past 22 years. But I still love that place and those kids, and when I see some of those adult kids today, who have kids and grandkids camping at the 4-H Center this summer, they still call me “Uncle Virgil.”
I like that.
Virgil Adams is a former owner-editor of The Jackson Herald.

Jackson County Opinion Index

Column

By: Susan Harper
The Commerce News
August 25, 2004

One Garden, Two Black Thumbs
Having a garden was one of my dreams and dearest hopes for 30 years. Then I moved to Commerce and my dream became a reality, sort of.
Back when it was a dream, one of the things I blithely assumed was that I’d be a halfway decent gardener. My reasoning went: Everybody does it. How hard can it be?
My dad had created season-spanning gardens for our home on Long Island, with fragrant corners and glowing beds of color. He had also nursed a few sparse sprigs of privet into a privacy hedge that was eight feet high, two and a half feet wide, a hundred feet long, and perfectly pruned. And he did this while working long hours and making frequent trips out of the country. He gardened, he said, for relaxation, for pleasure. He made it look easy.
Then there was my grandmother. Some of you may remember the florist shop on the front of her house on North Elm Street. She grew gladiolas, ferns, and moss to use in filling out her arrangements. She also grew strawberries, beans, squash, and okra, and she had petunias on either side of her front walkway, which she dead-headed on her way home from town. Gran handled plants with offhand authority, pinching things off, poking them in the ground, firming up the soil with the toe of her shoe, as if to say, “Of course you’ll grow!” So that’s what I thought, too.
Imagine my surprise upon discovering how crazy-making it can be to try to have a garden. Nothing fancy, nothing to eat, just a simple garden. Is there any such thing? Everything I touch seems to wilt, wither, and turn into compost within 24 hours – either that or it develops some grim infestation complete with webs or little bugs carrying white powder up and down the stems like tiny miners working to destroy.
The azaleas my dad put in across the front of the house have been an unqualified success, of course, as has the lorepetalum given to me by Rebecca Homan, a perceptive local librarian who may have suspected that I was the garden version of Typhoid Mary. Oh, and some sedum, a gift from Mary Wood, a library board member. Actually, come to think of it, that’s what has survived: gift plants. Julia Jones gave me a rhododendron which has done well, and Frances Rees contributed two azaleas, one of which still clings to life despite my best efforts to nurture it. Alvin Gary transplanted a dogwood in order to save it (which Dad says is the hardest thing of all to do), and it has flourished against all odds, probably because I never touched it.
My friends Jacque and Ron Craven, who are landscapers, installed my backyard garden because we all knew, by then, that I’d never have one otherwise. People who visit gaze enviously at the robust gardenia by the back door and say, “I wish I could grow a gardenia like that.”
“I don’t know a thing about it,” I tell them. “I just live here.”

Susan Harper is director of the Commerce Public Library.


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