University of Illinois Extension
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4-H Memorial Camp Built on Giving

Throughout its 65-year history, 4-H Camp in Monticello, IL has relied almost exclusively on donations to build, expand, and renovate.

By the time 4-H Memorial Camp was conceived in 1944 (less than a year before the end of World War II), Illinois 4-H members were no strangers to supporting a cause. 9,817 Illinois 4-Hers fought in the war, while countless others actively contributed on the home front. They salvaged rubber, metal, paper, and other useful materials for the “Salvage for Victory Program.” They planted victory gardens and learned food preservation. In one of their most notable drives, Illinois 4-Hers donated three ambulances to the American Red Cross after raising over $4,500.

In September of 1944, with the war coming to a close, the Joint 4-H Advisory Committee proposed a memorial for 4-H members and alumni who lost their lives in battle. It was ultimately voted that this memorial would be a State 4-H Camp.

The camp was to be funded entirely by donations, with the committee setting a budget of $1 million over 10 years for the statewide camping program. With only $420 left from previous wartime fundraising, 4-H club members were tasked with collecting nearly half of the $1 million sum, with individual donations from 4-H supporting businesses making up the rest.

In July of 1946, young philanthropist, Robert Allerton, made a donation of 250-acres from his estate in Monticello, IL to house the camp. Enthusiastic about the cause, he also offered his neighboring mansion for 4-H use.

With the land acquired, it was left to 4-H executives to devise a funding plan. The fundraising goal for each county was calculated by 4-H club membership x $1 x 10 years. In today’s dollars, that was about $12 per 4-Her per year. As an additional incentive, the first 30 counties to raise $1,500 were given the privilege of naming a cabin.

Piatt County, one of the counties to earn naming rights, earned a third of their goal by hosting a community jamboree. The event featured “fried chicken plate lunches, a pie auction, cake walk, and a raffling of a turkey along with 23 other prizes.”

Other 4-Hers rallied to collect money by “selling popcorn, chickens, food sales, picking cherries, sitting with babies, gleaning corn fields, bunco parties” and more.

Buildings were constructed as funds became available. By 1948, a dam creating a two-acre lake was built, as well as a shelter, bathroom, and wellhouse. While still in the beginning phases of construction, 4-H Memorial Camp opened for the first time for rudimentary camping in July, 1948.

By 1950, the 4-year funding blitz began to wane – so much so, that construction came to a halt April 1 due to lack of funds. Key projects such as the dining hall and sanitary facilities were left unfinished. Having firmly decided against borrowing funds, committee members feared the camp would have to remain closed for the year.

Hearing the news, Wilkinson Lumber Co. offered to advance building supplies without interest until January of the next year. Frank Mynard, Specialist in 4-H Club Work, explained, “Without this show of faith by [Wilkinson Lumber Co.] in the ability of 4-H members to raise the funds that summer, the development of the camp would have been delayed for some time.”

With the advancement of supplies, 1950 became a landmark year for construction. The dining hall and kitchen, toilets, and first cabin for campers were completed in time for opening of summer camp.

The brand-new facilities sparked new interest in camp funding and 4-Hers were able to successfully reimburse Wilkinson Lumber on time. After the Illinois State 4-H Junior Leadership Conference was held at the camp, the delegates returned to their homes to stimulate even more support for the camp. By December 31, 1950, $131,524.86 had been raised.

Throughout the following decades, more and more facilities were added: dozens of cabins, a diving tower, boat docks, sewage facilities, a recreation shelter, a health center, a craft shop, offices, a laundry building, sporting courts, and more. The lake was also eventually expanded to 16-acres and included a beachfront.

When it came time to refurbish buildings in the ’90s, continued donations made it possible. Various construction companies provided discounted or free materials and labor to aid the construction projects.

Donors were also given the privilege to name a cabin, as 30 of the original cabins had to be rebuilt to renew structural integrity. Working with the College of ACES Office of Advancement and the Illinois 4-H Foundation, over $250,000 of funds were donated and then matched by operational dollars generated by programs at 4-H Memorial Camp to rebuild the original cabins. Curt Sinclair, camp manager and program director, said, “This opportunity allowed donors to share their appreciation and belief in the camping program. It also afforded someone the chance to carry their family’s name and vision into the future.”

With future donations, 4-H Memorial Camp hopes to complete the Dining Hall remodeling project; rebuild all five bathhouse units; and add the program offerings of a swimming pool and trap shooting range. Tax-deductible donations can be given online at:, or mailed to:

University of Illinois Foundation
P.O. Box 3429
Champaign, IL 61826-3429

Today, the program is as vibrant and alive as ever with over 9,000 campers participating in one of 129 camp events in 2013. Sixty-five years ago it would have been hard to imagine that over half a million 4-H Campers would have added a treasured camp memory from their experience at 4-H Memorial Camp.

Thanks to Robert Allerton, and many others along the way, our World War II 4-H heroes are not forgotten as freedom is celebrated each year at 4-H Memorial Camp.

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Youth Cooking Schools: Learning in the Kitchen

Throughout its history, Extension has taught kids to cook. Foods “workshops” were often conducted for those enrolled in 4-H projects. However, a more in-depth program began in southern Illinois in 1993, and it eventually spread throughout the state. Some parts of the Cooking School program continue today.

Retired Nutrition & Wellness Educators Joy Richey and Martha Winter developed a week-long curriculum that focused on basic nutrition, food safety and food preparation. The curriculum, Youth Cooking School, was taught in half-day sessions, and each of the five days was devoted to learning about and making recipes from the various food groups. Although preparing food was the main focus of the curriculum, youth learned much more as they used their skills in math, reading and science to complete activities and experiments.

College students majoring in nutrition were employed during the summer and trained to conduct the schools with the help of local volunteers. Funding was secured, making it possible to offer the program in almost every southern Illinois county with hundreds of youth participating.

Eventually, an advanced-level curriculum known as the Master Cooks School, which also included a fitness component, was developed. The two curriculums became nationally recognized and both programs received a number of national awards, and at least half of the other states requested copies for their use.

Much of the funding came through the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program, but support from the Dannon Foundation, Illinois Association for Home and Community Education, and other small grants were also secured. The program was initiated at a time when major staff cuts had occurred. The traveling instructors who had been trained to teach the curriculum enriched county programs without creating a fiscal or manpower drain on the local offices.

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Illinois Dairy Extension: A Rich History of Innovative Work

Illinois Dairy Extension has a rich history of innovative research and educational support, providing practical, science-based advice to Illinois dairy farmers. “The beauty of Extension is we don’t have a dog in the fight, so we are viewed as reliable and unbiased” remarked Mike Hutjens, Professor Emeritus and Retired Dairy Extension Specialist. Although traditional dairy farms today will have 100-200 cows, in the 1940s it was more common to have only 5 cows per farm. With limited refrigeration, these small farms distributed products locally rather than the national or global exporting common today.

The dairy industry would grow substantially in the next few decades, as would Extension’s impact on dairy production. Illinois Dairy Extension led the effort for artificial insemination in dairy cattle as well as testing and killing cattle with bovine tuberculosis and Brucellosis (also known as “Bangs disease”) to eliminate the disease. It was controversial to kill cows testing positive for TB or Bangs at the time, but necessary for the health of uninfected herds and food safety in Illinois. In the 1960s and 70s, Professor Gary Harpsted, an Illinois Extension Specialist, led the effort implementing the Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) system – a nationwide record-keeping program – in Illinois, which significantly improved the quantity and quality of dairy produced in the state.

“I believe the role of Dairy Extension is to facilitate communication between research and practice,” said Hutjens. “First, they are the ears for researchers at U of I to know what problems need answers in the field. Second, Dairy Extension packages research and key information from all over the world to provide practical solutions for relevant problems to Illinois dairy farmers in the field.” Illinois Dairy Extension continues to provide dairy farmers with the latest research to this day, although in-person farm visits and demonstrations have been replaced with an active online presence. Among these online resources are Illinois Dairy Extension’s webinars published on Hoardman’s Dairyman website, electronic newsletters on Extension’s website DairyNet, and regularly uploaded videos to YouTube. These resources have served thousands of people across Illinois and around the world.

These easily accessible online resources became particularly important during 2012’s drought. Drought-stressed corn often has high levels of aflatoxin that can appear in milk. Aflatoxin levels are regulated by the government to maintain a safe milk supply, so Extension quickly alerted Illinois dairy farmers to the problem so farmers could measure the aflatoxin levels in their milk and take steps to eliminate it.

Illinois has 102,000 cows on 761 farms in Illinois that contribute approximately 3-4% of the total Illinois ag income for the state. At first glance, it may seem as if dairy production has limited impact on Illinois as a whole. However, while the dairy production may seem relatively small next to corn and soybeans, dairy consumption by Illinois residents is much larger. Hutjens explained that one of the biggest challenges facing future dairy production is maintaining high standards of food safety and consumer protection. As an unbiased resource of advice and education, Extension has a key role in the future of dairy food safety. “We have the safest milk supply in the world,” Hutjens said. “The future depends on serving consumers to ensure we continue to produce the cheapest, safest, and most wholesome dairy product out there while providing the latest research to Illinois dairy producers so they remain competitive and profitable.”

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Community Gardens Transform Communities and Promote Healthy Living

Community gardens provide a secure, reliable source of fresh produce for gardeners and their families. In the recent resurgence of interest in locally grown produce, Illinois Extension Master Gardeners have served as educational resources in their neighborhoods for developing and sustaining successful community gardens. “Community gardens bring people and neighborhoods together,” said Ron Wolford, Extension Educator in Horticulture. “It’s really amazing how turning an empty lot into a garden changes the whole feel of a community.”

The transformative nature of community gardens is particularly evident in urban neighborhoods. In 1986, Gerald and Lorean Earles turned an empty, garbage-filled lot in their Chicago neighborhood into the “Slumbusters” community garden. “It changed the whole feeling of that block. The garden started from nothing and ended up with 25 raised beds,” explained Wolford. Within a few years after creating the garden, the community pursued other neighborhood improvement projects, including redeveloping the nearby Douglas Park. “People who work in a community garden have a major sense of ownership and pride over what they’re able to do and produce,” said Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator in Horticulture.

Despite the positive impact community gardens have on a neighborhood, there are also many challenges to starting and sustaining a garden. “We get a lot of requests for groups or individuals in city neighborhoods who want to start a garden,” Wolford explained. “Extension Educators and Master Gardeners help them plan their garden and go through a checklist to evaluate whether the site has suitable soil and access to water to ensure the success of the garden.” Master Gardeners are helpful educational resources for selecting a site and planning the garden, as well as teaching new gardeners how to sow seeds, plant and transplant properly, manage insects, and correctly harvest produce. “We really depend on Master Gardeners for our community garden programming,” said Wolford. “They are the backbone of our programming.”

Community gardens also provide local food pantries with fresh, locally grown produce for community members in need. Many community gardens throughout Illinois donate all or part of their harvest to food pantries. “There’s a good trend to help feed those less fortunate,” remarked Hentschel. “There’s been this social aspect for the community of working together to provide food for the food banks.” Whether community gardens are tended for donation or personal use, they bring people in neighborhoods together and ensure fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables can be enjoyed throughout the growing season.

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The Solid Gold Kernel: Early Illinois Farm Adviser Programming

DeKalb and Kankakee were the two earliest Illinois counties to appoint a county farm adviser, providing free advice to farmers on their soil, crops, and livestock. William Eckhardt was the first county adviser, serving DeKalb County beginning June 1912. During his tenure, Eckhardt helped DeKalb farmers reduce the acidity in their soil and significantly improved seed quality and crop productivity. Kankakee’s first farm adviser, John Collier, similarly worked to improve Kankakee soil and crop quality while developing programs to encourage farmers to improve their growing methods.

One of Collier’s programs educated young men in crops and soil testing to motivate them to pursue better growing methods. A short course in agriculture was given to the young men's country club in the Kankakee courthouse from February 3 to 8, 1913. The short course taught young men to test corn and distinguish soil types, and a pennant was given to the township having the largest number of boys enrolled for this work. Among prizes offered from the club was a solid gold kernel of corn for each young man under 21 years of age who would raise 100 bushels of corn on an acre the following summer. Collier offered to pay the expenses of a short course in agriculture at the University of Illinois for the first young man who would marry within the next year and take his bride to the University for a course in home economics.

These unique, free programs helped DeKalb and Kankakee farmers improve the quality and productivity of their crops. Successful programming by DeKalb and Kankakee County Extension Advisers inspired other counties to hire their own county agents as well, and by 1914 there were 14 county agents throughout Illinois.

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Learning by Doing in 4-H

4-H projects are as variant and diverse as the interests of the youth who participate in them. Each 4-H learning experience is based, at its core, on the “Learning by Doing” 4-H experiential learning model. “Experiential learning is something we really believe in when we create 4-H projects, so all project manuals have an experiential learning component” said Judy Schmidt, Extension Educator for 4-H and Youth Metro. The experiential learning model consists of 5 formal steps:

  1. Experience – do the activity
  2. Share – share their findings with peers to learn from each other
  3. Process – reflect on the experience to consider what they have learned
  4. Generalize – consider how their experience relates to their daily lives
  5. Apply – apply what they have learned to a new situation

Projects are often simplified from 5 steps to “do, reflect, apply,” but still accomplish the same learning goals. “Do” is the active part of the project where 4-Hers participate in team building exercises or work directly on their 4-H project. “Reflect” follows activity, where 4-H members are asked to think more about the activity they just participated in. 4-H youth may be asked to reflect on what they are doing in their project, what works or doesn’t work, or consider questions related to scientific inquiry in science-based projects. “Apply” generalizes the learned skill or information to apply in their everyday life outside of 4-H. According to Schmidt, “The experiential learning model means youth spend more time thinking about what they’ve learned and how it applies to their everyday life. It helps them learn from each other and work together to share information.”

This summer, 4-H youth in Peoria County participated in a “Sugary Drinks” project, where 4-Hers examined the amount of sugar in different types of drinks by measuring out the sugar content read on the nutrition label. 4-Hers then measured out the sugar content in teaspoons from water, juice, sports drinks, and soda to help them visually compare sugar amounts in each beverage. Youth then reflect and share their findings with fellow 4-Hers, discussing what they drink at home and if they were surprised by how much sugar is in what they drink. From this information, 4-H participants considered what type of drinks are good to have on a regular basis, sometimes, and never or hardly at all based on their sugar content. Youth are encouraged to apply this new information to their daily life by talking to their parents about what they drink at home. They can now make more informed decisions about what and how much of any of beverage they consume by reading nutrition labels.

“Experience alone does not generate learning,” says Schmidt. “4-Hers must also be able to understand what happened, see patterns of observation, generalize from those observations, and understand how to apply this experience to a new situation.” 

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Pesticide Safety Training Keeps People and Environment Safe in Illinois

Quality and comprehensive pesticide safety education is vital to Illinois residents to protect both public and environmental health. The University of Illinois Extension Pesticide Safety Education Program (PSEP) has provided training to commercial and private applicators in safe and proper use of pesticides since 1966. Illinois law, in accordance with the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act, requires commercial applicators receive “general use” certification while anyone – commercial or private – applying “restricted use” pesticides must be certified. Extension PSEP trainings keep applicators up-to-date on new forms of non-chemical and chemical pest control methods while preparing them for the certification examination to be licensed. This educational and licensing process ensures proper pest management strategies are employed in the field, keeping people and the environment safe.

Although U of I Extension has been responsible for PSEP safety training since 1966, Extension’s educational role in pest management and pesticide use began much earlier. In 1921, Stark County Farm Advisers demonstrated the positive financial return from investing in proper pest management and spraying methods when it came time to sell orchard fruit, encouraging growers to invest in proper spraying equipment. Extension Farm Advisers assisted growers in forming cooperatives so a community could collectively purchase spraying equipment and materials to make the application process more affordable. Once growers had acquired enough equipment to spray, Extension agents advised what sprays to apply, the correct spray dilutions, and when to spray for the best profitable return.

Today, however, Illinois has much stricter pesticide regulations and safety measures, requiring more extensive education for certification. In 2012, U of I Extension held 51 clinics, training 9,724 commercial applicators and 3,914 private applicators, for a total of 13,638 people. This increased the total number of clinics held from 44 to 51 and 4,202 more applicators trained in 2012 than the previous year. Extension PSEP workshops provide information on General Standards pesticide application, including topics such as “Equipment and Calibration,” “Human Pesticide Protection,” “Integrated Pest Management,” and “Pesticides and the Environment.” Extension also offers specialized clinics in field crops, turf, ornamentals, aquatics, and seed treatment to name just a few.

In addition to holding clinics and preparing applicators for the certification examination, University of Illinois PSEP publishes 21 manuals that cover most areas of pesticide certification in Illinois. Many people use these workbooks as references to stay up-to-date on safe pest management strategies outside of the PSEP clinics. From clinics, to publications, online resources and more, Illinois Extension PSEP provides key information on Integrated Pest Management strategies to minimize the impact of pesticides on our environment and keep Illinois residents safe.

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Broadband Internet Promotes Rural Community Development

High-speed Internet connects people and businesses together, providing social, educational, and economic benefits to a community. Broadband Internet has become just as important as other utilities to community development, yet many places – primarily rural – still remain without access to high speed Internet. University of Illinois Extension, partnering with Broadband Illinois – the state-designated broadband initiative entity – is working to expand the availability and use of broadband Internet in underserviced areas across the state.

Illinois regions require both the physical infrastructure and demand for broadband service to expand availability.  To develop both infrastructure and demand, U of I Extension helped organize Broadband Illinois' ten regional eTeams. eTeams are designed to facilitate communication between private utility companies and the public for the purpose of developing telecommunications infrastructure. They also educate residents on the advantages high-speed Internet offers to encourage community residents and businesses to adopt and use broadband.

"Utility companies want to be competitive and are willing to serve, but we need to make sure community leaders have a platform to communicate those needs so utility companies know there's demand," said Kathie Brown, Extension Educator in Community and Economic Development. "Extension Educators are working with communities to develop strategies that build a relationship between public and private needs."

One such public need includes K-12 education. Without broadband Internet, rural schools have difficulty providing learning opportunities for youth to develop skills using technology that is vital for today's job market. Broadband Illinois and Extension programming has made low-income populations and seniors a priority in their work as well. "We want to ensure the disenfranchised aren't left out," Brown explained. For example, one Internet adoption project teaches senior citizens how to use basic email functions that helps them communicate and feel more connected to family and friends.

Broadband Internet not only provides opportunities for business development and education, but can provide communities with access to more advanced health care as well. Seniors with health conditions can live more independently when checkups and health monitoring are conducted and transmitted electronically from home. Physicians can also monitor chronic conditions such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) remotely when patients can electronically transmit data daily.

Although many regions have seen marked improvement in infrastructure construction and availability of high speed Internet, there is still more work to do. The next major goal for Extension is to assist rural communities in developing long range plans for future infrastructure implementation. "We would like to see more advanced, comprehensive planning that includes broadband infrastructure," said Brown. "We want to develop programming that incorporates both hard infrastructure and adoption in community planning."

For more information on PCI Broadband Illinois projects and activity, see their website at or connect with them at" For more information on Illinois Extension broadband development in your area, contact your local Extension office.

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Kitchens of Today and Yesterday

Kitchens have changed a great deal over the past 100 years, and the Extension home economics program has changed right along with it. When Extension home economic units first organized following the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, home advisers were almost entirely limited to cooking demonstrations due to difficult travel conditions and unpaved roads. Advisers were unable to transport appliances or other household items to provide more diverse demonstrations for rural towns for the first few years of Extension.

In 1916, however, a rail car known as the "Home Economics Demonstration Car" expanded the demonstration capabilities of Extension home economics advisers to include power equipment, appliances, and household furnishings as well as cooking. According to an Illinois Extension circular, the rail car was an innovative project that enabled Extension "to show the machines, the kitchen utensils, and the color schemes, not just talk about them." This car made hands-on, in person demonstrations on all facets of household management accessible to communities around the state. Rail car demonstrations provided practical information on "how power commonly used on the farm may also be employed in performing a large part of the heavy labor of the home," making rural life more comfortable for homemakers.

In 1924, Illinois Extension's Home Economics division held a home exhibit that demonstrated various updates and arrangements a family could make to a rural kitchen to improve its efficiency and comfort while remaining affordable. The exhibit encouraged rural homemakers and their families to manage their household so the family could steadily work towards improving their kitchen. More than 10 years later in 1936, homemakers in several counties across Illinois toured homes that made improvements to their kitchens following the 1924 home exhibit.

At the time of the Extension kitchen improvement tours in 1936, statewide rural electrification was still getting off the ground and not all kitchens had electricity. Many of the kitchens, however, made improvements to storage and convenience of their kitchen arrangement, and some even had indoor plumbing installed in the kitchen. One home in McLean County had made the following improvements as of the 1936 tours: "A kitchen sink with drainpipe and electricity from a home plant serve to make this home fairly adequate although the house is heated by stoves. The plumbing and the cupboards were self-installed by the family. They are gradually improving the house through keeping of home account records." Soon electricity and central heating would be much more common conveniences in a home and continue to reduce labor and increase comfort for rural Illinois families.

The microwave is arguably one of the most important appliances for the modern kitchen invented in the last half of the 20th century. The first microwave small enough for standard home use was introduced in 1967 and dramatically changed the way the average family cooks. As a staple appliance in the modern kitchen, Extension provides practical educational resources in consumer, food safety, and nutritional advice for cooking with microwaves. In 1994 Debra Bartman, Extension Consumer and Family Economics Educator, published a guide to selecting the best microwave for a household based on the family's needs and size of the kitchen. More recent publications by Extension provide recipes for healthy meals from the microwave, tips for safely defrosting meat, and 4-H projects teaching children how to safely and easily prepare food in a microwave.

As the household kitchen has changed, so have the services Extension provides. For the past 100 years, Extension has kept Illinois residents informed of the newest equipment, utensils, and cooking methods to improve the health and well-being of families throughout the state. 

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Problems of a Pioneer Home Adviser

In the early days of Illinois Extension following the passage of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914, County Extension home economists, better known as home advisers, faced many challenges. She had countless difficulties in obtaining good equipment and supplies for her demonstration. It was almost impossible to give a successful food demonstration that illustrated principles and techniques necessary to prepare a product of good quality with an old stove; either the oven would not heat or it would be too hot. Since there were no funds to purchase supplies for demonstrations they were brought by the women. Sometimes those supplies failed to arrive. Even when they did, the quality of perishable ingredients often was poor – the lard was rancid; the milk was sour; or the butter was soft. In 1918 many homes in Mercer County were without refrigeration. Through repeated trials, a homemaker learned to manage her own oven and to discard perishable ingredients that had failed to pass her family's tolerance level, but a home adviser was expected to produce a standard product on her first trial.

The Mercer County Home Improvement Association was organized in 1917 with Elsie Gildersleeve Gilmore appointed as the first home adviser. Gilmore described the mode of travel in those days: It was not uncommon for the adviser to be away from her office at the county seat for four or five consecutive days. There were times when she walked to a meeting or someone would take her a certain distance with a team and buggy where someone else would meet her. Two electric trains were a help; one line crossed the county on its way from Monmouth in Warren County to Rock Island. The other line, better known as the "dolly," shuttled between Galva and Keithsburg twice daily. Whenever a storm came up and the power went off, the adviser might be stranded for two or three hours enroute. The travel situation was eased when the Mercer County Home Improvement Association furnished a car, but there were only ten miles of graveled roads in the county in 1918.1

The adviser coped with the problems of a new organization, inconvenient travel, inadequate equipment, lack of secretarial help, and the pressures of a wartime program; still she found time to work with youth. She introduced the hot school lunch and developed Girls' Club Work during her first year in the county.2  Despite the challenges early home advisers were required to cope with, she still served homemakers and their families throughout the state with practical information on cooking, home management, and youth development.

Kaiser, Gertrude E. A History of the Illinois Home Economics Program of the Cooperative Extension Service. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1969. Print.

  1. Interview with Gilmore.
  2. The Aledo Democrat, September 16, 1920, p. 7.
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The New Farm Life

Wartime demands for increased production stimulated research and brought about the application of findings to soils, crops, livestock, equipment, and farm management practices. The changes in farming introduced the term "the new farm life." Isabel Bevier, professor of household science at the U of I from 1900 – 1921, gave another dimension to the term when she wrote in 1917:

"...the new farm life, whatever else it may mean, implies an appreciation of the fact that the farm is no longer to be judged by the acreage of its crops, nor by the number of its flocks and herds, but by the character of the life maintained in the farm home – not just for Sundays and company, but for all the days and all the company. The new farm life means an attitude of mind that recognizes that land owners are trustees of a valuable inheritance which they should pass on unimpaired. It recognizes that people are more than land, more than machines – that the purpose of the farm home and the farm life is to produce healthy, happy, useful individuals who shall find their satisfaction, their joy, bearing their share of the world's sorrow, doing their share of the world's work on the farm or in the farm home."1

As Bevier reviewed the problems of farm families, she expressed the need for rural people to have a general education which would enable them "to grasp the meaning of the world's work, to understand the teamwork of the whole nation, and with due regard to act as spokesman for rural interests in law-framing bodies."2

A reader might ask whether these are merely platitudes on the part of Bevier or whether they represent her beliefs and values in working with people. According to two former staff members these statements represent her philosophy in working with both urban and rural people.3  Bevier reportedly had a deep and abiding interest in rural people; she came from a family that owned and lived on a large farm.4  Her philosophy was reflected in her insistence on bringing the results of research to bear on homemaking practices in both rural and urban homes.5

Bevier apparently kept social changes and the problems of families in focus as she met with the Home Economics Extension staff and board members of county home improvement associations to determine the administrative framework of Home Economics Extension in Illinois. 6

Kaiser, Gertrude E. "The New Farm Life." A History of the Illinois Home Economics Program of the Cooperative Extension Service. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1969. p. 122-124. Print.

  1. Isabel Bevier, "Problems and Opportunities of Farm Life." Talk given at Columbus Ohio, 1917 (in the Bevier File).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Interview with Harriet Barto, August 30, 1966. Interview with Burns, August 31, 1966.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Interview with Barto.
  6. Bunch, "1919 Annual Report."
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William Eckhardt: First DeKalb County Farm Adviser and Founder of DeKalb Ag

Since the Smith-Lever Act passed in 1914, University of Illinois Extension Advisers have provided targeted, practical advice to Illinois farmers and livestock owners. In 1915, the DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association hired William (Bill) Eckhardt as the first DeKalb County Farm Adviser. The Soil Improvement Association was founded in 1912 by a group of DeKalb farmers, forming one of the earliest Farm Bureaus in the United States. Eckhardt, a soils professor at the University of Illinois, contributed his expertise to advise the Association and improve DeKalb soil and seed quality.

The DeKalb County Soil Improvement Association required Eckhardt’s expertise to address DeKalb’s acidic soil problem. DeKalb County’s soil acidity developed from intensive farming of the land for 70 years prior to Eckhardt’s arrival, stripping the soil of essential nutrients necessary for healthy crops. After extensive testing, Eckhardt applied limestone to the soil to reduce acidity and increase important nutrients such as calcium and magnesium, ultimately improving crop productivity.

Eckhardt targeted both soil and seed quality to improve DeKalb growers’ yield and quality of crops. Once measures had been taken to reduce soil acidity, Eckhardt shifted his focus to improving seed quality for farmers. In 1917, Eckhardt hired Charles Gunn as a corn breeder to pursue higher quality corn seeds and purchase heartier alfalfa and other forage seeds from the west. Eckhardt and Gunn recommended seeds to DeKalb farmers that would increase yields and were well-suited for their soils.

1917 also saw the founding of the DeKalb Agricultural Association, Inc. When Eckhardt realized the Smith-Lever Act prevented county agents from conducting business activities for their counties, he recommended the Soil Improvement Association form a corporation to conduct its business instead. The DeKalb Agricultural Association was officially licensed on June 21, 1917.

Later that year, Eckhardt was called on to work beyond DeKalb County and serve the entire state in a moment of crisis. In September 1917, an early freeze damaged most seed corn throughout Illinois, leaving farmers with little seeds to plant for the following year. This loss not only threatened Illinois’ food supply, but also food sources for American and Allied troops fighting in WWI. Eckhardt was appointed to lead the effort tracking down undamaged seed corn to ensure there would be enough corn in 1918. He was successful and managed to obtain 100,000 bushels of seed corn that survived the early freeze. Eckhardt’s efforts prevented a food crisis the following year and ensured farmers had hearty, early-maturing seeds for the 1918 corn crop.

In July of 1920, Eckhardt took on a full-time position as head of the Grain Marketing Department of the Illinois Agricultural Association, and Tom Roberts was appointed as his successor in the position of DeKalb County Farm Adviser. Building on Eckhardt’s foundational work improving seed quality, Roberts would lead DeKalb County into the hybrid seed corn business, making innovative strides in the research and use of hybrid seed corn in Illinois.

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WWII Victory Gardens in Illinois: A Civilian’s War Effort

During WWII, every US citizen was called upon to collectively participate in the war effort on behalf of the nation. According to the Office of War Information, rationing was a key strategy for providing the country with enough supplies to sustain a successful war effort and ensure “an equal amount becomes available for everyone.” During WWII, victory gardens became a means for non-military citizens to assist in wartime efforts by supplementing their rations with fresh vegetables from the garden.

Victory gardens were maintained both at private residences and public parks, supplementing civilian diets to remove pressure from commercial food production needs. This effort allowed commercial production resources to be directed more fully toward sustaining soldiers overseas. University of Illinois Extension provided Illinois residents with important educational information about planting and maintaining a garden, controlling insects and pesticides, and food preservation methods vital for successful victory gardens.

The War Leaders’ Letter was a newsletter published by U of I Extension during WWII that provided Illinois civilians with information to increase farming production, agricultural challenges for the next year, and tips to make a family’s ration last longer. The War Leaders’ Letter echoed the call for fulfilling civilian patriotic duty through gardening by describing 1942’s successful crop production as “a definite war offensive by Illinois farmers” and calling for “continuing and enlarging this success in 1943 for an early war victory.”

Extension reached a wide population of Illinois victory gardeners by distributing circulars in addition to The War Leaders’ Letter. U of I Extension circulars were widely-circulated pamphlets that kept Illinois residents informed of wartime needs and projects. These circulars targeted issues for successful victory gardening with titles such as “An Illinois Garden Guide,” “Tomato Growing: Ten Points for the Home Gardener,” “Strawberries: Some Do’s and Dont’s for the Home Gardener,” and “Insecticides for the Victory Garden” to name only a few. These circulars provided accessible and practical information to increase food production in personal gardens.

Regardless of how successful a garden was in the warm months, a family still needed to eat during the winter. Canning was an important skill needed to sustain supplemental food supplies from victory gardens through the winter. U of I Extension provided publications and programming for the best canning methods to safely store food for a longer period of time. Extension also issued circulars recommending what greens to plant at different points in the season to extend a family’s access to fresh nutrients for as much of the year as possible.

Extension provided other important resources for successful victory gardening as well. Lee A. Somers, Vegetable Extension Educator, broadcasted a 15 minute “victory garden radio program” every month during the spring, providing advice and important information for maintaining a healthy victory garden. U of I Extension also created a 4-H Victory Garden Club where youth learned to raise fresh vegetables to be canned, dried, frozen or stored for the winter. According to the Illinois Extension newsletter, 4Hers participating in this project “will relieve the commercial production for the soldiers, for lend-lease and for those who can not raise their own vegetables.”

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Rural Electrification in Illinois

For many Illinois residents today, running a refrigerator or turning on the lights seem like second nature; something easily taken for granted. The ability for rural homes to access electricity, however, only became possible as recently as the 1930s. Before 1936, barely 10% of rural farms had electricity compared to 90% of their urban counterparts. Electricity would significantly improve the rural family’s quality of life, but the process of electrification would be long and arduous, requiring significant community organization and education. Fortunately, University of Illinois Extension Specialists assisted in guiding residents through the process, ensuring statewide rural electrification could move from dream to reality.

The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 established the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) as a federal resource offering low-cost loans to community cooperatives and utility companies. Prior to the REA’s formation, private utility companies were reluctant to extend lines to rural communities for fear of low profit in serving less people over longer distances. Because of this concern, utility companies charged such high extension fees it was unaffordable for most farms before the REA intervened. By making low cost loans available to community cooperatives, the REA enabled farmers to bypass high utility charges and make electrification feasible for the average rural family.

U of I Extension played a key role helping rural communities form electric cooperatives and extend electric lines. In addition to the financial resources made available through the REA, one of the most important factors in progressing rural electrification was community education. Extension Ag Engineering Specialists conducted in-person meetings to answer all questions about preparing the home for electrification and provided important information on safety precautions against fire and shock hazards. U of I Extension also published informative pamphlets on electrification, including electrical equipment selection, correct farmhouse wiring, and electrical safety.

Extension Farm Advisers also participated in “electric fairs” or “electric circuses” demonstrating the cost to run electricity in the home and providing additional information relevant to rural residents. Extension Specialists believed that if a community was organized, informed, and motivated, cooperative farm organizations could pressure utility companies and municipal power plants to change their policies and accommodate rural customers.

As of September 1936, 4,274 homes in Illinois were electrified. This raised the total number of farms with electricity to 33,759, or 15% of Illinois’ rural population. By the end of 1937, Extension reported electrification rates steadily increasing from 18% to 21% of rural homes throughout the state, a dramatic improvement from the nearly stagnant rate of electrification prior to 1936. This progress meant more rural families could make use of labor saving appliances, including electric refrigerators, washing machines, lighting, and stoves that would significantly improve the quality of rural life.

Many farm advisers reported increased interest for rural electrification projects from U of I Extension education efforts. As of 1937, 48 counties reported an average of 137 farms per county receiving electric service, with a total of 6,507 newly electrified farms throughout the state. Champaign County had secured a contract that would build over 500 lines in the northern part of the county, while Douglas County anticipated over 1000 homes electrified the following year. With increased interest and affordability, electrification progress had become swift and sustainable for farmers long-term. By 1938, 21 cooperatives had formed while Ralph Parks, Extension Ag Engineering Specialist anticipated at least 4 more cooperatives to form within the following year.

The rapid progress of rural electrification slowed with the United States’ entry into WWII. Stateside projects like rural electrification now deferred to important wartime efforts. U of I Extension work on rural electrification during the War shifted its focus from construction to safety and proper service use. Despite this slowing rate of electrification, the first 5 years of the project saw incredible growth with over 50% of Illinois farms receiving electric service by 1941. Work on rural electrification continued for several decades, with nearly 98% of farms throughout the United States electrified by the early 1970s. The hard work of so many rural residents, REA officials, and Extension Specialists and Advisers made it possible for all homes in Illinois to expect access to electricity, permanently changing the quality of life for rural Illinois families.

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Miss Eva Benefiel

Miss Eva Benefiel came to Kankakee Co. in July, 1915 to serve as advisor to the newly organized Women's Home Improvement Assn. Kankakee Co. was the first county in the state to have the services of a woman advisor.

This group later became the Kankakee Co. Home Bureau, then the Kankakee Co. Homemakers Extension Assn. and now the Kankakee Co. Assn. for Home & Community Education.

Tragically, just a year and a day after her arrival in the county, Miss Benefiel drowned in the Kankakee River while on a summer outing.

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Bill Stone: 4-H Teacher & Leader

It is no exaggeration to say that every day, all across Illinois and beyond, 4-H members continue to benefit from the work William “Bill” Stone began more than 60 years ago. Bill started his career in 1952 at a rural Extension office in southern Illinois. Within four short years he was promoted to the Illinois State 4-H Office where for better part of three more decades, he created the vision and provided the catalyst for many programs still providing strength to 4-H today.

Bill’s leadership style was “cut from 4-H cloth,” as he quietly and effectively led by example in his role as Assistant Director/4-H and Youth. He served as superintendent of the Junior Department at the Illinois State Fair from 1969-1982, providing a quality educational experience for some 7,000 4-H and FFA participants each year. Early in his career, 4-H was almost exclusively an organization for rural youth – but Bill felt strongly that 4-H should be inclusive. Under Bill’s leadership, 4-H Chick Embryology programs became a large part of school-based, inner-city programs in the Chicago area. Those early partnerships laid the foundation for today’s comprehensive 4-H programs in Chicago and Cook County, where about 10,000 youth enroll in 4-H each year.  

Bill’s breadth and depth of knowledge of 4-H allowed him to see many needs, and to capitalize on opportunities to meet those needs. When Illinois State Fair Sale of Champions auction prices began ratcheting up in the late 1970’s, Bill saw a need to put some of the emphasis back on the educational value of youth livestock programs. Thanks to Bill’s efforts, 20% of the Sale of Champions proceeds now are reinvested in 4-H and FFA every year. These auction proceeds have generated 2 million dollars over the past two decades resulting in nearly $400,000 being channeled into livestock education programs supported by the Illinois 4-H and FFA Foundations.

Throughout his career, Bill especially enjoyed working with teens and 4-H camping programs. He established the forerunner of today’s State 4-H Conference, as a means of keeping older 4-H’ers engaged and further developing their leadership skills. He played a key role in the evolution of the University of Illinois 4-H Memorial Camp, and was a strong proponent of its 4-H State Leadership Camp program for many years. Bill was honored for his commitment to youth in 1981 with his acceptance of the Distinguished Service Award of Extension 4-H Agents. 

The contributions Bill Stone made to Extension, 4-H and the field of youth development extended well beyond Illinois. At the national level, he twice accepted special assignments with the National 4-H Foundation in Washington, D.C.:  First in 1965 when he served as a consultant in Citizenship Education and Leadership Development, and next in 1975 as Director, Health Education. On Bill’s watch, the nationwide 4-H Health programs won grants totaling more than $288,000 from the Robert Wood Foundation. He served as Chairman of the National Health Education Advisory Panel (1978-1980); the National 4-H Consumer Education Program Committee (1972-1976); and the National Dairy Program Committee (1968-1972).  He also lent his experience and leadership abilities to the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), specifically within the sub-committee of Health Education (1976-1978).

Bill exemplified leadership and volunteerism in his local community, as well. He was instrumental in the founding of the Faith United Methodist Church and was a charter member of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) in Champaign, Illinois. He was an active member of Kiwanis at the district level and shared his passion for reading by making tapes of books for the blind. 

Retired State 4-H Director Mary Hoffman may have best summarized the character of Bill Stone when she said, “Bill’s approach helped individuals of often widely differing opinions and experience come to a meaningful direction for the overall, or specifically the youth, programs. He could interpret the needs of youth to those not working directly with youth themselves. You could always count on him to be fair, honest, and considerate as he helped others share ideas, differ, agree, compete, learn and cooperate.”

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4-H Honors Pyle for Lifetime Service

David Pyle was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame for his lifetime achievements and contributions to 4-H. Pyle was Illinois's longest-serving 4-H director and was nominated for the honor by his Illinois Extension colleagues.

Pyle was raised in Hillsboro, Ohio, where he was an 11-year 4-H member in Highland County. He was a national winner in beef, which earned him a trip to the National 4-H Congress in 1959.

Pyle's 34-year career began as a county 4-H agent and Extension Service-USDA-funded project director in Indiana (1963-75), followed by a six-month internship with the National 4-H Council. He was a 4-H program specialist in Florida (1976-78), state 4-H program leader and department chair in South Carolina (1978-83), and assistant director and state 4-H program leader in Illinois (1983-96).

During Pyle's tenure as Illinois's 4-H director, the program in Illinois became one of the top five in the nation.

The "Recognition of Excellence" program, now in its 25th year, is considered Pyle's greatest legacy. This program shifted Illinois 4-H's focus away from a competitive model and toward a more standards-based, individual achievement model that emphasized development of life skills. This approach to 4-H youth development has become the standard nationwide.

Under his leadership, Illinois was also the first state to implement a computerized 4-H enrollment and information management system. He oversaw a "$4 Million for 4-H" fundraising campaign, and more than 20 years later, the invested funds from that campaign continue to provide financial support for local grants and programs throughout the state.

Pyle was elected to serve as president of the Indiana 4-H Agents Association, and he was honored by the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents with their Distinguished Service Award. He was also inducted into the Illinois 4-H Hall of Fame in 2006.

Pyle's scholarly work includes research projects that contributed to the international body of youth development knowledge. He has taught credit courses for North Carolina State University, The Ohio State University, and the University of Illinois; he has also made presentations to the National 4-H Resource Development Workshop, the International Youth Services Conference, and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers.

Since his retirement, Pyle has served on The Ohio State University Leadership Center Advisory Board and conducted the North-Central Regional 4-H Leader Forum study. He continues to serve as a volunteer and advisor with a broad range of organizations and charities. Today he lives in Daniels, West Virginia, where he volunteers with the West Virginia New River Gorge Community Involvement Initiative.

After being named a national beef winner at Congress in 1959, Pyle received a handwritten letter of congratulations from A.B. Graham, the founder of 4-H. Graham concluded the letter by writing, "The sun never sets on 4-H club work. Be proud you are one of the many millions."

Illinois has had a number of former 4-H members, leaders, supports, and staff named as Laureates. They include:

2002 - Lawrence Biever
2002 - William B. Otwell
2002 - Orien Samuelson
2003 - John Block
2005 - Hubert Wetzel
2008 - George Daigh
2010 - Mary Kay Munson
2012 - David D. Pyle
2012 - Gerald Gast

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The History of Illinois Extension Directors

Until 1965, there was no "Director" of Extension separate from the Dean. From 1914, when the Cooperative Extension Service was created, until 1965, the Dean of the College of Agriculture served as the "Director." However, most Deans appointed an "associate director" for Extension (and sometimes other duties as well) who basically ran Extension on a day-to-day basis.  The Deans who were Directors of Extension were: Eugene Davenport, 1914-1922; Herbert W. Mumford, 1922-1938; Joseph Blair, 1938-1939; Henry P. Rusk, 1939-1952; Robert R. Hudelson, 1953-54; and Louis Bradley Howard, 1954-1965.  At the time Orville Bentley became Dean in 1965, the "Director" title went to the former associate director, John B. "Jack" Claar. 

To back up, the first associate director was Walter F. Handschin, who served from 1914 until his death in 1922 at age 42.  Handschin had studied at Wisconsin and Minnesota before finally receiving his B.S. degree at the U of I. He was a native of Wisconsin and served for a time as an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota (1908-11). Beginning in 1911, he was an "associate" in the Department of Animal Husbandry. Earlier in his career he had managed the Natoma Dairy Farm west of Chicago, which was apparently a major operation in its day. While in the Department of Animal Husbandry here, he began Ph.D. work in agricultural economics and had apparently completed the requirements by the time of his death. In addition to his Extension duties under Davenport, he also was vice director of Farm Organization & Management; and chief of Farm Organization & Management (the difference is not clear). He also had a fairly good list of publications. In the summer of 1922, he contracted what was described as influenza. Thereafter, he was also hit with Bright's Disease. That summer he indicated his desire to resign from his Extension duties, prompting a letter to him from Dean Davenport, dated July 31, discussing how this would be handled budget-wise. In the letter, Davenport writes, "I have been instrumental in permitting you to do two men's work for so long a time." Apparently, he was referring to the work overload which he (Davenport) felt was undermining Handschin's health. The next day, Aug. 1, Handschin died of heart failure, leaving behind three children and his widow. The College then gave the widow half of his salary, apparently totaling a little over $2,000. That was her only benefit. His passing was noted and mourned in a number of publications and a memorial booklet was published as well. 

Dean Mumford did not employ an associate director for Extension until his final year for reasons that are not clear. In 1937, J. Clyde Spitler was appointed, serving until 1949. Spitler had a history with Extension, previously serving as assistant state leader for farm advisers and was an assistant professor in "Smith-Lever Extension" perhaps a forerunner to the old Extension Education program.  Upon Spitler's retirement in 1949, he was succeeded by William G. Kammlade, whose academic home prior to this had been as assistant professor and assistant chief, sheep husbandry. He had been at the U of I since 1928 and was a native of Wisconsin. Kammlade served until 1960, when he was succeeded by Jack Claar.  Claar's background was in agricultural economics, having served in the Department of Agricultural Economics in 1952-53. He also had Washington experience, which I believe came between his initial U of I service in the early '50s and his later appointment as associate director.  Claar, who is still living, retired in 1979.  William Oschwald, by training an agronomist and native of the Springfield area, was named Director in February 1980 and served until retiring at the end of August 1988. Donald Uchtmann, an agricultural law specialist, then served as interim Director from May 1989 until August 1990 when he was appointed Director. Uchtmann left the job at the end of 1995.  Dennis Campion succeeded Uchtmann and held the job until 2009 when Robert Hoeft became the interim Associate Dean from 2009 to 2013. Hoeft was a U of I soil fertility Extension Specialist from 1973 until he became Department Head for Crop Sciences in 2005.

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