This is the year of Cooperative Extension. Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing and voted on a resolution to commemorate the centennial of the Smith-Lever Act, which established the Cooperative Extension System. The companion Senate resolution is sponsored by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. On Wednesday evening, March 5, I was honored to represent MSU Extension at a Capitol Hill reception co-hosted by Sen. Stabenow to celebrate the same landmark with other members of Congress and delegates from the land grant university system.
This centennial celebration will continue throughout the year, but I think it is interesting and ironic to note that another significant event happened in 1914 that has affected Cooperative Extension as well. On this date (March 6), people are gathering in Ames, Iowa to celebrate the 100th birthday of C.J. Gauger. Mr. Gauger served as a longtime state leader of 4-H in Iowa, and had a 34-year career in service to Iowa State University Extension. I’ve been fortunate to meet and come to know and appreciate Mr. Gauger through my spouse, Rhonda Fulcher Coon, who was active in Iowa 4-H as a youth and young adult, and went on to become a 4-H educator in Iowa and eventually the executive director of the Iowa 4-H Foundation.
C.J.’s leadership came at a critical time for 4-H when it experienced growth in numbers and in breadth of programming in the 1960s and 1970s. He was a contemporary of one of Michigan’s key leaders for 4-H, Dr. Russ Mawby, who went on to become the president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
C.J.’s legacy is strong and lasting, and one of the hallmarks of his leadership was the notion that 4-H youth should be provided an opportunity to practice leadership in 4-H at all levels. Through his enabling leadership, 4-H stretched into program areas that had not been exposed to 4-H youth previously, and reached into communities where 4-H had not been offered previously.
His visionary leadership really laid the foundation for the theory of Positive Youth Development, and evolution of scholarship on this notion. There have been critically important leaders for Cooperative Extension over the past 100 years, here in Michigan and across the nation. It’s entirely fitting that one of those leaders shared a birth year with the Cooperative Extension System in 1914, and it’s an honor to take this opportunity to wish C.J. a happy birthday, and lots of gratitude for his pivotal leadership in 4-H.