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By Kim Strohmeier
For the News-Herald
May 8 of this year marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Smith-Lever Act, the federal legislation that created the Cooperative Extension Service. President Woodrow Wilson, in signing the act, called it “one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the education of adults ever adopted by the government.”
The purpose of the act, as stated by congress was “to aid in diffusing among the people of the U.S. useful and practical information on subjects related to agriculture and home economics, and to encourage application of the same.”
In the early 1800s higher education in America was available only to the children of the well to do. The land-grant university system was created in the 1860s to provide an opportunity for the children of the working man to secure a higher education, particularly in agriculture and mechanical sciences.
The agricultural experiment stations were created in 1887 for the purpose of creating new information through research to teach these students. The extension service was the result of the idea that this knowledge should be made available to those not attending these institutions and should continue to be available throughout one’s life.
Extension work started in March of 1918 in Owen County, with the hiring of John P. Ricketts as county agent. With a few breaks in the early years, at least one agent has been employed in the county since then.
The extension office was originally located in the courthouse, in the current county attorney’s office. In the early 1940s, the office moved upstairs over the current Larry Tackett’s Menswear store. In about 1948, the office was moved upstairs in the Farmers Bank building and it moved to its present location about 1953.
The county has been fortunate to have had a lot of extension agents who procrastinated when it came to throwing out old files, consequently, the office still has almost every annual report written by agents in its files.
The News-Herald has agreed to run a series of features on the history of the extension service in Owen County. This feature story will be based on information from these old reports.