The first 100 years

Historic photo of a fair exhibit of fresh and canned produce

Extension, Douglas County 4-H Boys and Girls Club exhibits at the Churchill County Fair and Nevada State Fair, circa 1916-1918. Photo courtesy Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Reno.

Historic photo of a line of old cars along a dirt road near a farm

People in a caravan of cars touring Washoe County farms in 1923 as part of Extension's work in the area. Photo courtesy Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Reno.

Historic photo of 4-H youth

Extension, White Pine County 4-H'ers in costumes representing agricultural products from a Horn of Plenty in 1926. Photo courtesy Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Reno.

It took Extension agents from southern Nevada 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," former agent Louie Gardella said. "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 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, 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 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, 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 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 American Indian reservations. Nevada's alfalfa variety testing and animal vaccines became renowned nationwide.

In 1945, the College of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Station and Extension were united under one dean and director, Cecil Creel, bringing 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, Extension received a separate dean's position, and Karen Hinton was named dean/director.

Recently, Extension rejoined the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources and the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station. There, it continues its long legacy of using research from all colleges as it serves a variety of constituents across the state.

Today, while it takes only one hour to fly between the state's urban centers, Extension's mission of helping people solve contemporary problems has not changed. Together with volunteers, its more than 200 personnel in more than a dozen offices enable agriculture, families and communities to remain viable in an increasingly complex and technological world.