History of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension:
The First 100 Years!
See also: Cooperative Extension History Slide Show
It took southern Nevada Cooperative Extension agents two days of dusty driving and two nights camped along meandering streams to get to Reno. The roads were mere trails in the early days. "You could almost walk it faster," says former agent Louie Gardella. "But the only alternative was taking the train, another two-day trip, but by way of Salt Lake City!" The days before air conditioning and aircraft were challenging times for early Cooperative Extension agents. Nevertheless, they led efforts to build good roads and bring power and telephone lines to many of the state's isolated communities. Clarence Thornton, Washoe County agent in the 1920s, organized petitions for the Boca Dam project. Years later, John Wittwer contributed to flood-control plans when Las Vegas was a town of just 2,000 people.
While at the forefront of many community actions, Cooperative Extension agents worked primarily with farmers to increase crop and livestock yields, and with youth in 4-H clubs. Home economists helped homemakers prepare and preserve food that was nutritional for children, many of whom were dangerously underweight.
Nevada didn't hesitate to join other land-grant universities after Congress signed the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. Their aim was to make education available and affordable to everyone. The first Nevada Cooperative Extension employee Norma Davis, hired in 1914, officially inaugurated 4-H clubs. The first agriculture agent Joe Wilson, working in Lyon County, began a long tradition of working relationships with local farm bureaus.
During the ensuing World Wars, Cooperative Extension agents were active in promoting food production and conservation. During the Depression, Claude "Mud" Townsend dispensed education where the clients were - in saloons. He bought shoes and clothing for children out of his own pocket.
In 1938, the University purchased a permanent 4-H campsite at Lake Tahoe; a joint project between Cooperative Extension, 4-H leaders, farm bureaus and county commissioners. A year later, the first Nevada Junior Livestock Show was held in Reno. In later years, 4-H membership jumped, particularly on Indian reservations. Nevada's alfalfa variety testing and animal vaccines became renowned nationwide.
In 1945, the College of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension were united under one dean and director, Cecil Creel, bringing Cooperative Extension closer to its research base. They remained united under a succession of long-serving leaders, such as Dale Bohmont and Bernard Jones, until 1993, when Cooperative Extension was given its own status as a university college. In 1998, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension received a separate dean's position, and Karen Hinton was named dean/director. Using research from all colleges, it now serves a variety of constituents.
Today, while it takes only one hour to fly between the state's urban centers, Cooperative Extension's mission of helping people solve contemporary problems has not changed. Together with volunteers, its more than 200 personnel in 18 offices enable agriculture, families and communities to remain viable in an increasingly complex and technological world.