Celebrating 100 years of sharing knowledge

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County extension services were signed into law 100 years ago, and Shelby County’s services started 10 years later

By Brad Bowman

County Extension Services across the nation celebrated their 100th anniversary as the Smith-Lever Act signed into law on May 8, 1914 by President Woodrow Wilson gave the service, connected to land-grant universities, an opportunity to extend knowledge and change lives.


Shelby County’s first Cooperative Extension agent H.R. Jackson started in 1924. Jackson had the responsibility of the three services now covered by three different agents: 4-H, agriculture and homemakers, which was called home demonstration at the time.

The Extension Service agents act as ambassadors to county residents and share contemporary research from land-grant universities in agricultural practices, food handling safety, and economics.

Households across the country in the early 1900s, especially in rural parts of the nation, learned not just about canning vegetables and making preserves, but about how to freeze food properly once electricity was brought into rural areas.

Shelby County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences Sheila Fawbush told the attendees how far ahead of its time the Smith-Lever Act was for America.

“The first words [of the act are], ’…In order and defusing among the people of the United States, useful and practical information on subjects relating to agriculture,’ and I am going to say this one more time for your benefit,” Fawbush said, “this is 1914, ‘…uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture and home economics and rural energy and encourage the application of the same’ they made this pack. What really struck me is, they are talking about using solar energy in 1914 when a lot of counties didn’t even have running water or electricity and here they are talking about harnessing solar energy then.”

A similar comparison in technological advancement can be drawn from an article written by former Sentinel-News Editor Duane Puckett, who covered the 75th anniversary in 1989, and wrote of how then extension agent Hank Catlett thought the tobacco-bailing program was a huge accomplishment in agriculture development.

Catlett was hired in 1967 to cover a seven-county area and came to Shelby County two years later.

In Puckett’s article, Catlett joked of catching grief for advising residents to grow cucumbers when the temperatures are in the 60s and taking a harassing phone call from a friend who asked him if a ton of popcorn weighed more before or after it popped.

Catlett worked with Jane Bailey who joined the extension service in 1973. Jane helped grow the homemaker programs to include issues involving family living and health. Dorothy Graves, past Shelby County Homemaker’s Club president, talked about her time working with Bailey when she first moved to Shelby County.

“If you look over there [pointing to extension displays on tables from past years], you see that I think I’m the only one who joined 4-H in the thirties,” Graves said. “I grew up in the state of Washington where I joined the 4-H club. I didn’t sew — I was in charge of cattle.

“That’s how I learned how to show cattle. I had not known anything about homemaker clubs before I joined the club. I had to go see the extension agent and met Jane Bailey.

“Do you remember the office they had then? It was two rooms in the basement in the county courthouse. Jane had just started as agent. She taught wonderful classes on everything you needed to know. There were no places for her to have meetings. She had to find places to have meetings.”

Graves talked of how Bailey taught homemakers about embroidery and new techniques for cooking.

“Jane taught us all kinds of things – like the new equipment, the pressure cookers – the things that are considered old fashioned now,” Graves said. “Jane was a person that stayed a good friend of mine. Obviously the extension has made a huge impression on my life, my family and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

The Shelby County Cooperative Extension Agency draws from two universities: University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University.

“Often times, research is done at the county level too and not just at the universities,” said Fawbush.

“A farmer using a different fertilizer may report their yield numbers to us. A local farmer or homemaker can be the best agent for change.”

The Cooperative Extension offers numerous programs: 4-H Youth Development, Community and Economic Development, Family and Consumer Sciences and Horticulture.

For more information about the Extension visit: www. shelby.ca.uky.edu or call 502-633-4593.