University of Florida

FAE4-HA History: Our Beginnings

The first full-time county 4-H professional employed in the Florida Cooperative Extension Service was Ernie Cowen.  Ernie began work in Orange County in 1966.  Before 1970 several other central Florida counties added full-time 4-H agents to their staffs.  As early as 1969 a small group of county 4-H agents were meeting informally to exchange program ideas and to assist each other in dealing with the frustrations of the new full-time 4-H agent position.  Cowen was the first agent to become fully aware of the National Association of 4-H Agents and the opportunities it offered.  Ernie Cowen was deeply committed to attempting to enhance the 4-H agent position through establishing a state organization for 4-H agents.  Although Ernie's efforts were not fruitful during his employment with Extension, he was successful in recruiting many Florida 4-H agents for the National Association and made the first (March 1970) formal request of Administration for permission to invite a National Association representative to visit with Florida 4-H agents about forming a state 4-H association.  There is no doubt that his dedicated groundwork has earned him the unofficial title of "Father" of our Florida Association.  Although Dr. Joe Busby, State Director, was unwilling to grant Cowen's request, he did agree to study the situation for future consideration.

Not discouraged, Ernie persuaded two other Florida 4-H agents, Leah Hoopfer of Pinellas County and Alice Kersey of Polk County, to join him in taking leave and attending the National 4-H Agents meeting held in November, 1970, at Perdue University.  The three returned to Florida stunned at the professional improvement opportunities offered at the meeting.  Alice Kersey agreed to serve as our state "contact person" for Florida's members of NAE4-HA, and relying on annual leave, attended a Southern Region ECOP meeting for presidents of all three associations held in Atlanta in 1971.  Interest in forming a state 4-H agents association in Florida continued to grow.  In a few years Dr. Busby said he learned many favorable things about the accomplishments of 4-H agents associations in neighboring states and was ready to change his position on a third Florida agents association from negative to neutral.  The formal state Association of Ernie Cowen's dreams could now become REAL.

With administration's approval, Alice Kersey invited Richard Freeman, Southern Region Director, to visit with Florida agents during 4-H Congress in July, 1975.  Richard made a presentation about the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents. When he opened his presentation for questions, "Could WE organize a 4-H Agents Association in Florida?", was the first question asked.  Richard had come prepared with the necessary information.  B.J. Allen suggested Nettie Ruth Brown of St. Johns County chair our organizational meeting since she was then president of the National Home Economics Agents Association and very experienced at that sort of thing.  During the meeting our first elections were held.

John Smehyl of Hillsborough County, was elected president; however, John resigned his Extension position shortly afterward and Shirley Bond of Pinellas County served as our first active president.  Serving with Shirley that first year were Alice Kersey, secretary and Bob Renner of Marion County as treasurer. Shirley was elected to serve an additional term as president and through her leadership FAE4-HA became a fully-functioning state association.  Among the early achievements:

  • A Professional Improvement Committee became active
  • Joy Satcher of Brevard County was designated our first member to receive the Distinguished Service Award
  • Tax-exempt status was obtained
  • An association annual meeting time was established.  It would be held at Florida's State    Extension Administrative Conference.
  • An annual award was established to honor "the Extension employee who develops and has printed the best 4-H materials".

President Shirley had been very active in NAE4-HA before moving to Florida.  Some of her contacts in the National Association encouraged her to seek our interest in hosting the 1981 national meeting.  At the December 14, 1977 Executive Board Meeting, Lowell Parrish successfully moved that FAE4-HA make a bid for the 1981 national meeting to come to Orlando, Florida.  Terry Floyd was appointed chairman for the meeting if the bid was accepted by the National Committee.  Dean Woeste agreed to support our bid providing FACAA and FAEHEA supported it.  That afternoon at a joint meeting of the boards of all three Florida associations the proposal for FAE4-HA to bid for the 1981 4-H Agents' national meeting was supported by both the Agricultural & Home Economics Associations.  Later in the year our bid was successful.  In less than a decade we had come from being Ernie Cowen's dream to making plans for a national meeting at his doorstep.

Alice Kersey
Polk County