The following story is from the May-June issue of the 4-H History Preservation Newsletter
This is the tenth and final article in the series, reprinted from 1962 National 4-H News, which featured people identified by Extension Service professional staff members as “folks who helped make 4-H great.”
Thomas E. Wilson
July 22, 1868 – August 4, 1958
It is entirely fitting that this alphabetical series of ten articles should close with a review of Thomas E. Wilson’s influence on today’s 4-H program. For 4-H is made great by two widespread circles of cooperation. One is the teamwork of federal, state and county governments providing public financial support for 4-H. This is the source of the title “Cooperative Extension Service,” parent agency to 4-H.
In the creation of the other important cooperative alliance in 4-H – that between business and government – this giant of the meat-packing industry, Wilson, played one of the leading roles.
Congress created the Cooperative Extension Service in 1914, thus establishing boys’ and girls’ club work officially. Just four years after this starting date – in 1918 – Wilson made his entry into this field by playing meal host to a group of Iowa rural youths during the International Livestock Show in Chicago. This was one of the forerunners of today’s national awards programs and the generous hospitality offered Club Congress delegates each fall by the large corporations of America.
Wilson also held a key spot in the creation of the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, now called the National 4-H Service Committee. This group has been a meeting point between business and government since 1921. That was the year in which Wilson and a handful of other early friends of club work helped Guy Noble establish the National Committee as a service agency to 4-H.
Having taken over a nearly-ruined meat-packing business in 1916 to create Wilson & Co., this pioneer in 4-H support was under great pressure both financially and for his time and energy. Yet, Guy Noble has recounted, Wilson was always willing to give time and effort to club work whether to discuss organizational problems or to open doors for Noble with important businessmen who might support 4-H.
As the second chairman of the National Committee, Wilson gave some 37 years of conscientious service to 4-H club work. He succeeded E. T. Meredith in this position in 1924 and held it until 1958, shortly before his death.
Some of the specific benefits which Wilson brought to 4-H Club work besides the ones already mentioned could easily be overlooked, because their influence on the program has been subtle. They were important just the same.
For instance, his insistence on getting the finest of speakers and entertainment at the Wilson-sponsored Club Congress banquet set a standard of quality for all future sponsors. His bringing to 4-H support the cream of the business world established an unimpeached relationship that still exists. His support of 4-H in its early days lent much-needed support at a crucial time. His high personal standards set a lifetime goal for the 4-H members he so much enjoyed meeting.
Wilson’s respect for the importance of young people led him to work with many youth agencies. Speaking of 4-H, he set forth the goal of all leaders in club work today: “We all want to aid boys and girls to achieve, to learn and to become self-reliant citizens.” This 4-H pioneer certainly earned the title accorded him by his associates, “The business god-father of 4-H Club work.”
This is the last in a series of articles describing the influence on today’s 4-H program of ten outstanding pioneers in 4-H. these articles have included the following people: E. W. Aiton, O. H. Benson, T. A. Erickson, A. B. Graham, A. G. Kettunen, Guy L. Noble, C. B. Smith, R. A. Turner, Miss Gertrude Warren, and Thomas E. Wilson. Individual articles from the series are available on the 4-H History Website http://4-HistoryPreservation.com