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Muriel White, member of the 4-H Victory Garden Club, shows the proper way to suckering of corn. 1942. Courtesy of OSU Archives.
Mobile kitchen, part of the Extension Service’s Farm Electrification Exhibit. 1938. Courtesy of OSU Archives.
County agent H.G. Avery and superintendent of Moro Branch Experiment Station D.E. Stephens. Courtesy of OSU Archives.
Education across the airways
Eventually, Oregon’s Agricultural College became Oregon State University. But the letters OAC stayed etched in the college radio station, KOAC. Radio in the early 20th century (like the Internet at the end of the 20th century) was adapted from technology originally designed for the military and national security. OAC Extension’s director of information, Wallace Kadderly, saw the potential for radio to deliver Extension education. He championed building a broadcast radio station powerful enough to cover the entire state. In 1925, the College celebrated the opening of the 500-watt KOAC with Kadderly as its program director and announcer. “Radio erases city limits and state lines, and causes to disappear the boundaries of nations, creeds, and partisanship,” Kadderly said.
KOAC’s slogan was “Science for Service,” and its purpose “to make the resources of this institution more fully available to the state.” The programming that went over the airwaves revolutionized Extension’s educational outreach. In KOAC’s first year of operation, the OAC Extension Service broadcast 313 lectures, “selected because of their practical application in the home, on the farm, or in business,” according to Kadderly.
In any given week, KOAC may have reported on: control of insects and plant diseases, weekly crop market news, programs for 4-H members, and homemakers’ programs on everything from child development to costume design. Broadcasts ranged from house heating to psychology and from automobile repair to political economics. Beginning in 1929, talented 4-H club members performed their own radio plays live on KOAC.
By 1932, following the creation of the Oregon State System of Higher Education, all extension activities across Oregon’s public universities were combined into one General Extension Division, and Kadderly expanded KOAC’s educational programming. Homemaker clubs across the state studied child development from broadcast lectures; a home study course on poultry science drew 603 registered learners. Kadderly’s Oregon School of the Air broadcast radio-based high-school courses on topics from agricultural engineering to shorthand.
Radio farm reports by Extension agricultural agents were a popular KOAC feature through most of the century. Following World War II, Bill Smith led Extension communications into television. His weekly program, “Oregon at Work,” chronicled the people and innovations in Oregon agriculture and business. One favorite episode had Smith on camera reporting rangeland management news as an amorous bull crossed behind him, unscripted and in hot pursuit of a willing cow.
Extension during the war
It was during the Great Depression that Extension expanded its role from teacher to leader and activist. Federal emergency relief programs needed local administration, and few knew local communities better than the Extension agents who lived and worked there. Extension agents delivered the New Deal, running federal programs such as gasoline rationing, salvage, and farm fire protection.
During World War II, Extension took responsibility for federal domestic war projects, organizing the Neighborhood Leader Plan to reach rural families with information on programs to control inflation, conserve wartime resources, and boost food production with Victory Gardens. Extension agents were leaders for the Emergency Farm Labor Service that organized temporary workforces of women and children and helped recruit Braceros to work Oregon farms. After the war, Extension agents helped establish veteran agricultural advisory boards in every county and supported agricultural enterprises for Japanese-Americans released from internment.
Growing Oregon’s economy
Extension was central to the Oregon economy’s postwar growth. As they had in the 1920s and ’30s, Extension leaders sponsored economic development conferences in every county of the state to identify opportunities and educational needs. Under Frank Ballard’s leadership, Extension delivered more and more research-based scientific and technical information to the rapidly growing urban sector. Trained as a journalist, Ballard served as Extension Editor of Publications and as president of Oregon State College before becoming head of the OSC Extension Service in 1945. He understood that educational outreach to the agricultural and forestry industries helped create jobs for Oregon.
They say that Ballard personally interviewed everyone who came to work for OSC Extension. If, at the end of your interview, Ballard told you to “go out and do good work,” you knew you got the job. This personal commitment was reflected throughout the organization. County-based Extension agents continued the leadership they had taken on during the war, serving on regional land commissions, health committees, chambers of commerce, and school boards.
With the post-war boom in natural resource industries and an influx of new immigrants, Oregon needed new tools—and Extension provided them. In 1967, Bob Jacobson became the first OSU Extension agent in hip boots, serving people in the fishing industry. As his agricultural counterparts had witnessed a generation earlier, Jacobson was greeted with skepticism from the community he was to serve. “I spent the first 6 months identifying immediate needs in the coastal communities,” said the former OSU basketball star. What he saw was a complete lack of communication between fishermen and the agencies that regulated their industry. Jacobson convened a series of town hall meetings to bring communities and regulators together to plan for a shared future. Later, Jacobson helped establish Oregon’s first watershed councils, which pioneered community-based management of shared water resources.
The 1960s and ’70s were boom times for Oregon’s forest industry and research within OSU’s College of Forestry. Until then, forestry had been a secondary assignment for a handful of agricultural agents. OSU Extension expanded its forestry faculty to deliver training in woodland management and to extend research to the new Christmas tree production industry. Under the guidance of OSU Extension foresters, Christmas tree production was transformed into a science, and Oregon became a national leader in the industry.
Meeting a growing population's needs
To reach more people with research-based information, OSU Extension developed Master-level educational programs for community volunteers, who in turn provided community education as Master Gardeners, Master Woodland Managers, Master Watershed Stewards, Master Food Educators, and more. Each year, Extension volunteers contribute weeks, sometimes months, leading service programs in their communities.
During the 1980s, natural resource industries saw a sharp decline. Farms were in default, mills were shutting down, and commercial fishing began to see the first of many closures. Alice Morrow was one of many OSU Extension faculty who developed programs to help families hurt by this decline and to transition workers to new careers. OSU Extension helped people understand critical issues such as poverty, salmon, and sustainability by publishing tabloids in all major newspapers across the state.
In the early 1990s, state funding for higher education in Oregon dwindled. OSU Extension programs established new partnerships with community colleges, the Oregon Food Bank, school districts, and community groups. In 2007, OSU placed Extension within the Division of Outreach and Engagement. Today, county-based OSU Extension faculty still serve as leaders in their communities as Extension reaches new audiences online and through dispersed Open Campuses being developed in collaboration with local leadership.
OSU Extension continues to deliver education in new ways. Many of the techniques that radio pioneered continue today through the Internet. Lifelong learning reaches across the state with Extension education both on site and online. The purpose is unchanged: a well-educated citizenry is essential for economic and community development. One hundred years, one mission.
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