A Legacy of Leadership

North Carolina’s Extension and Community Association celebrates 100 years of home demonstration programs.

More than 800 people from across the state came to Raleigh this past fall to celebrate 100 years of home demonstration programs in North Carolina. The Extension and Community Association (ECA), a volunteer organization of North Carolina Cooperative Extension, hosted a gala to celebrate its centennial.

Before Home Demonstration Clubs there were girls’ Tomato Clubs, started in 1911 by Jane S. McKimmon, North Carolina’s first woman home demonstration Extension agent. Tomato Clubs encouraged young women to grow tomatoes on a 10th of an acre, sell them at curb markets during the growing season and preserve them for sale and home use. In the first year, 416 girls canned nearly 80,000 jars of food.

N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker hosted the gala.
N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker hosted the gala.

Mothers and daughters worked together on canning food. By 1913, the mothers had learned to can so well, they began to ask for clubs where they might learn other skills for the home. Thus Home Demonstration Clubs – later named Extension Homemakers and today the ECA — were born in North Carolina.

Through the educational guidance and researched-based information provided by N.C. Cooperative Extension’s family and consumer sciences agents and specialists based at N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities, ECA continues as a grassroots institution that has actively addressed the needs of families in their communities for 100 years.

The ECA centennial gala began with an opportunity for guests to view engraved bricks placed in the Jane McKimmon Garden at McKimmon Center. The bricks were donated in honor of the women of ECA, family and consumer sciences and their supporters.

N.C. Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker served as guest host for the gala celebration. Decker regaled the crowd with stories of her partnership with N.C. Cooperative Extension across the state while she worked as a customer service representative for Duke Energy in Charlotte.

A highlight of the evening was the announcement of a new women’s leadership program developed in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro.

The program will be rolled out this year in pilot counties as a train-the-trainer model, using FCS Extension agents and ECA members as trainers, said Dr. Marshall Stewart, then head of the Department of 4-H Youth Development and Family & Consumer Sciences at N.C. State, as he told gala attendees about the leadership initiative.

New Hall of Fame member Dorothy Wilkinson (right) began her career in Granville County in 1944.
New Hall of Fame member Dorothy Wilkinson (right) began her career in Granville County in 1944.

Women with limited access to leadership training will be the target audience of the program, said Stewart, who was recently named special assistant to the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of College strategy and leadership. The goal is to develop a new generation of women leaders in North Carolina and increase community participation in issues related to economy, education and health, he said. Leadership development is a strategic goal identified by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The program is a win-win, not only for the women who participate, it is a win-win for the individuals and organizations that choose to support it,” said Stewart, adding that the program is seeking other supporters to join the N.C. Pork Council, the first organization to support this leadership initiative.

Another highlight of the evening was the induction of 27 new members into the Jane S. McKimmon Family and Consumer Sciences Hall of Fame. Those honored have given a combined 1,200 years of service to North Carolina and their communities.

Four former N.C. State faculty members were inducted: the late Dr. Linda Bunn, state associate program leader for FCS and administrative leader of the N.C. Extension Homemakers Association; the late Marjorie Donnelly, leader of Extension’s foods and nutrition program and a developer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program; Dr. Nadine Tope, Extension food preservation specialist; and Betsy Meldau, the first woman district Extension director in North Carolina.

Many of the women recognized became leaders in Cooperative Extension and leaders in their own communities. Dr. Pauline Calloway, who began her career in North Carolina, became the first woman district Extension director with Florida Cooperative Extension, and Dr. Myrle Swicegood, who also began her career here, went on to become head of the Home Economics Department with Clemson Cooperative Extension in South Carolina.

Ruth Cherry of Edgecombe County ECA was the first woman county commissioner there and state president of Farm Bureau Women. Isabelle Fletcher Perry of Lenoir County ECA was the first woman county commissioner there and the first woman named to the Tobacco Stabilization Board; and Marguerite Whitfield, also of Lenoir County ECA, served 12 years as a county commissioner there.

The gala evening opened with a multi-media presentation about the impact that ECA, Extension Homemakers and Home Demonstration Clubs have made in communities and across the state of North Carolina. On the stage were five trees, representing the new life that has grown from significant efforts of ECA: a Nourishing Tree, a Money Tree, a Tree of Hope, a Learning Tree and the Legacy of Leadership Tree.

Throughout the presentation, each tree was illuminated as the narrator described significant contributions by ECA volunteers and their predecessors in that area.

As a Nourishing Tree, ECA helped women grow food and share that knowledge with their neighbors. The first school lunches of tomato soup and hot cocoa were provided by these volunteers. Today, ECA clubs help fight the obesity epidemic by educating their communities about good nutrition and physical activity.

ECA has long helped families find the Money Tree, stretching their dollars from the Great Depression of the 1930s to the Great Recession of today. ECA showed women how to sell surplus produce at curb markets to earn extra money. Members also developed crafting and sewing skills to provide for their families and earn income. Their financial contributions helped modernize the state by providing families with access to indoor plumbing, electricity and new appliances.

As a Tree of Hope, ECA has supported the country in times of war and extended its reach around the world to those in need. During World War II, clubs knitted sweaters and socks for soldiers, planted Victory Gardens and collected surplus materials for the war effort. In North Carolina, clubs raised money to renovate and launch the hospital ship Larkspar. They have supported humanitarian efforts around the globe, building wells to help remote villages in Guatemala. And club members donated $100,000 of their “butter and egg” money to build the Jane S. McKimmon Center at N.C. State in 1976.

The women of ECA planted a Learning Tree by providing North Carolinians with greater access to library books. North Carolina grew from one of the most illiterate states in 1941 to the state with the most bookmobiles in 1957. ECA members provide books for parents of newborns, recognizing the importance of early reading. They also have provided tutoring and scholarships to encourage students to learn beyond high school.

ECA women have added many branches to the Legacy of Leadership Tree, both within the organization and within their own communities as mayors, county commissioners and school board members.

Major sponsors of the centennial celebration were Duke Energy Corporation, Jarden, Murphy-Brown LLC, N.C. Egg Association, N.C. Electric Membership Corp., N.C. Pork Council, Wake County Farm Bureau, Wells Fargo Bank and district ECA offices.

 — Natalie Hampton

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