Rock Eagleworks its magic
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.”
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.