(This story was first published May 16, 2017)
CLEMSON — The late Clemson University Extension agent Marvin Cely once wrote, “Sometimes memories are all we have, that’s why it is so important to make as many good ones as we can.”
Memories of the achievements of Cely and three of his county agent colleagues have led them to be named to the Frank Lever County Extension Agent Hall of Fame at Clemson University.
Cely was inducted along with Betty Baird, Carroll Preston Culbertson and Henry L. Eason in a ceremony at the Life Sciences Facility on the Clemson campus. Their portraits will hang in Barre Hall, home of the Clemson Extension offices.
Named for U.S. Rep. A. Frank Lever of South Carolina, co-author of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 that created the Cooperative Extension Service, the Hall of Fame was created in 2014 to mark the centennial of the agency. It honors the careers of “longtime, front-line county agents” whose work had an important economic impact on the communities they served.
“We honor these people as we celebrate the many lives they have impacted,” said Clemson Extension Director Tom Dobbins. “This group reflects what Frank Lever envisioned: a form of educational outreach that would transform the nation.”
Lever, a Lexington County native and Clemson trustee, envisioned a national program that would take research-based agricultural and food-science knowledge from colleges and universities and put it in the hands of working people.
“Frank Lever’s passion was that if we could share the university’s information with the people, it would change lives,” Dobbins said. “These four agents have proved exactly that.”
Members of the Lever Hall of Fame are nominated by both colleagues and clients, including many students and alumni of 4-H clubs, which are a youth component of Extension.
The May 2017 inductees are:
As a home economist and county Extension director, Baird served the people of Lexington County for 27 years beginning in 1970.
“You could find her crawling under a house in search of moisture problems or helping a 10-year-old with a 4-H project,” said colleague and protégé Pam Ardern, who directs Clemson’s 4-H and Youth Development programs. “She was definitely a team player. She helped Lexington County make the transition from rural to suburban and urban.”
Instrumental in helping establish the Leadership Lexington program, Baird also developed the Lexington County Extension Homemakers Council into a self-sufficient community organization with 30 local clubs and more than 450 members — the largest in the state.
Baird was recognized both for her service and her vision. Before the county had recycling centers, she helped develop and conduct the Master Waste Educators Program. She was also on the front lines of the 1986 haylift distribution for drought-stricken farmers.
Her career was award-winning literally from start to finish. She was named the Savannah Valley “Rookie of the Year” in 1975 by the S.C. Association of Extension Home Economists and claimed the Distinguished Service Award in 1984 in both the national and state associations.
“Betty always supported the people of her county, her 4-H’ers and her coworkers,” Ardern said. “She was my support and encouragement.”
Marvin S. Cely Jr.
A 30-year veteran of Clemson Extension, Cely began his career in 1957, serving as an assistant county agent in Oconee and Dillon counties, ultimately rising to become the assistant district leader for the Piedmont region.
Cely’s book, “Brushy Creek, A Country Boy’s Haven,” originally was written for his grandchildren so they would know about his early life. The last three stories — including the “memories” item on the final page — were written two weeks before his death in 2001.
Colleagues remember Cely for his leadership. “He had the common touch of a leader. He led by example,” said Greenville County Extension Agent Danny Howard, who nominated Cely for the honor. “He used to say, ‘There is good in everybody. It’s up to me to find it.’”
Cely played a central role in the 1979 establishment of the South Carolina Association of Extension Secretaries, later renamed the S.C. Association of Extension Administrative Professionals.
“A few other states had such an organization and Mr. Cely wanted the administrative staff to have one in South Carolina, too,” Howard said. “He would be proud of the association’s long history.”
During his travels in rural South Carolina as a county agent, Cely saw firsthand the needs of the indigent and tried to meet some of those needs one family at a time.
“Children may be poor,” he said, “but they still believe in Santa Claus.” His personal charity grew to become organized as Marvin’s Kids, a program founded in 1979 that continues today with more than 300 volunteers through Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Seneca.
Carroll Preston Culbertson
If it were possible to have been everywhere and done everything, Culbertson probably would have.
While specializing in row crops early in his county agent career, Culbertson applied his skills to almost everything in agriculture: row crops, fruit crops, horticulture, beef cattle, integrated pest management — you name it.
Beginning his Clemson Extension career in 1976 as an assistant county agent in Abbeville County, he continued that work in Greenwood County (1979-87), Union County (1989-93) and then as a multi-county director for Abbeville, McCormick and Anderson counties (1993-98), adding Oconee and Pickens counties to the mix in 1995.
Ultimately he would be responsible for administration of 22 counties in the Upstate. At his retirement in 2010, Culbertson was a special assistant to the vice president, where his work included oversight of grants, contracts and finances.
“He would go to extraordinary lengths for the programs he believes in,” said Laurens County Extension agent Bryan Smith. “He always made sure the solution he provided his clients were in keeping with their means. He made sure they had the resources to utilize the solutions he gave them.”
Culbertson helped bring the popular Master Gardener program to South Carolina. Now in 29 counties, the Master Gardener program provides intensive, practical horticultural training to volunteers who then share their knowledge and skills with others.
“His people skills were amazing,” said retired Extension Chief Operating Officer Fran Wolak. “He was rough and tough but he could also be gentle — and somehow he could be all three at the same time.”
Henry L. Eason
To his colleagues, Eason was a “boots-on-the-ground, get-your-hands-dirty county agent.” To the farmers he served, he was the source of reliable, tested and timely information to make their farms prosper.
“He was a friend to his farmers,” said retired Clemson Extension agent Phil Perry. “He was always encouraging, always positive. He was always working tirelessly behind the scenes. He never said, ‘It’s not my job.’”
Following service in the First U.S. Marine Division in the Pacific in World War II, Eason returned to South Carolina and earned a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry at Clemson in 1951. He plied that trade in commercial farms in Pennsylvania and Virginia before returning home.
Eason served as a livestock agent for Laurens and Chester counties from 1959 to 1972, when he moved the Newberry County for the remainder of his career. He retired in 1985.
The move to Newberry gave Eason his first real involvement with the dairy business. He learned quickly, earning honors for his service as secretary of the South Carolina Jersey Cattle Club.
“He gave great counsel and advice to livestock producers. He stood with his farmers in good times and bad,” Perry said. “He drew big crowds because he gave his audiences excellent, timely information — and because he fed them well.”
Eason served on the Official Board of Central United Methodist Church in Newberry and as vice president of the Chelsey Cannon Bible Class. He was a member of the Newberry Rotary Club, a Hejaz Temple Shriner and member of Amity Lodge #87 AFM.
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