Rock Ea­gle­works its magic

The Covington News - - Local news -

In 1949, state 4-H of­fi­cers in­clud­ing Girls’ Vice Pres­i­dent Jane Greer of New­ton County led fel­low 4-H’ers in rais­ing funds for a camp.

This was to be a 4-H camp like no other — a dream of then State 4-H Leader Bill Sut­ton.

Young 4-H’ers like Greer or her lit­tle brother “ Fred­die” had been to 4-H camp in the moun­tains at Camp Wa h s eg a , which was built by the Civil­ian Con­ser­va­tion Corps and holds about 150 peo­ple, or to the 4H camp on Ty­bee Is­land of sim­i­lar size.

4-H’ers know how to dream big, though, so I can only imag­ine that Sut­ton’s vi­sion of a camp hous­ing 1000 4H’ers seemed per­fectly rea­son­able to th­ese youth.

Sut­ton and other UGA ex­ten­sion leaders ap­proached Gov­er­nor Tal­madge with the plans, and se­cured a prom­ise of match­ing funds for ev­ery penny 4-H’ers raised.

Af­ter all, how much money can a group of kids come up with?

New­ton County 4-H’ers, like their coun­ter­parts statewide, went to work bak­ing cakes, sell­ing hogs and find­ing ways to fund this dream.

Fred Greer re­minded me that in 1949, kids hardly went door to door sell­ing gift wrap and candy bars. They didn’t have a lot of ex­tra things to sell, es­pe­cially at a time when one might only own two pair of shoes a year.

How­ever, as 4-H’ers prove again and again, em­pow­ered youth with a vi­sion can ac­com­plish big things: the state had to match more fund rais­ing than ex­pected, and the first build­ings be­gan to rise at Rock Ea­gle 4-H Cen­ter.

Since the of­fi­cial open­ing in 1955, more than 3 mil­lion peo­ple have en­joyed what be­gan as just a vi­sion in one man’s head and the fundrais­ing of youth.

Seems a bit like magic to me.

As 4-H’ers, we’ve all com­plained about some­thing at Rock Ea­gle. Maybe it was the show­ers, or blinds worn a lit­tle ragged by so many youth peek­ing through, or most likely that in­fa­mous hard toast.

Yet we can’t stay away, and af­ter host­ing 4-H’ers from other states or trav­el­ing to other states our­selves we learn how en­vi­ous other 4-H’ers are of the world’s largest youth cen­ter.

Last Satur­day, Rock Ea­gle added an­other feather in its head­band — an $11 mil­lion din­ing hall.

As more than 1,000 4-H’ers, vol­un­teer leaders, agents, state staff, alumni, donors, and elected of­fi­cials gath­ered to ded­i­cate the fa­cil­ity, I looked around the room and felt that Rock Ea­gle magic.

With more than dou­ble the square feet of the old Sut­ton Din­ing Hall, this 49,589 square foot fa­cil­ity can serve 1,112 peo­ple in four din­ing rooms through six serv­ing lines.

The wood ceil­ing of solid ash is the largest of its kind in the south­east­ern US.

My awe was much more than just this spec­tac­u­lar build­ing, how­ever. The col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of the New­ton 4-H’ers and alumni in the room re­minded me this was a mo­ment I’ll pass down years from now to new 4-H’ers.

The magic started with Bill Sut­ton’s dream, which must have seemed like it would in­deed take magic to ac­com­plish.

I wit­nessed the magic just a few months ago when we sent four high school youth on a trip to Rock Ea­gle, and they re­turned ask­ing ex­cit­edly how they could go back. One of those youth at­tended his first of­fi­cial 4-H event last week­end.

My dad com­peted at District Project Achieve­ment and at­tended other events at the camp in the early 70s, and he and my mom have con­tin­ued to call Rock Ea­gle home through their vol­un­teer work the last 19 years.

Two New­ton 4-H’ers at the ded­i­ca­tion can re­mem­ber the beginning of Rock Ea­gle: Art Har­grove, Sr., and Fred Greer.

Yet to see their faces and hear their sto­ries, it seems like each last camped at Rock Ea­gle last sum­mer—an­other glimpse of that magic.

I asked Fred Greer what passed through his mind at the ded­i­ca­tion, think­ing back over the en­tire his­tory of Rock Ea­gle.

Greer said he and a friend won­dered aloud what Bill Sut­ton would have thought to see this grand new build­ing.

“Bill Sut­ton would cer­tainly be in awe, and the glow on his face would be beam­ing,” said Greer. “And some­where, I know he knows — and is smil­ing.”

Sub­mit­ted photo

New­ton County 4-H’ers Ken Gal­loway, East­side, Ma­chonna Jones, Al­covy, and Tyler Ran­som, New­ton, took part in the rib­bon cut­ting for the new $11 mil­lion Rock Ea­gle din­ing hall as part of 4-H Fall Fo­rum.

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