Raymond W. Blacklock became the State Boys’ Club agent in Florida on September 1, 1918. He gave leadership to 4-H programs statewide for thirty-three years. His work laid a foundation for the Florida 4-H Youth Development Program that we know today. Under Blacklock’s guidance, the corn clubs begun in 1909 in Florida by J.J. Vernon and fostered by Garvin Leon Harrington, expanded into 4-H clubs.
“Mr. Blacklock broadened 4-H work from just agricultural demonstrations into educational projects designed to help the 4-H member grow,” said Joe Busby, former dean for extension. The boys raised cotton, sweet potatoes, and farm animals. They also worked with forestry, wildlife conservation and most phases of agriculture. A new emphasis was placed on developing the mental, physical, and social capacities of 4-H members.
Blacklock worked to raise awareness and develop public speaking skills in 4-H members by getting young people out into the community. “Through contests at county and state fairs, 4-H visibility was enhanced and became more widely known and appreciated by the public. 4-H members were encouraged to speak to civic clubs and other groups and their club training activities helped them to become polished speakers and leaders.”
He expanded the State 4-H Boys Club Short Course at the University of Florida, which was the early forerunner of today’s Florida 4-H Congress. “He obtained sponsorship from the state banker’s association for scholarships and organized the state specialist staff to support 4-H,” said Busby.
The first short course for boys was held in September 1916 in Gainesville with 73 of the top 4-H club boys from around the Sunshine State in attendance. The boys visited the College of Agriculture on the university campus for a week, where they heard lectures on crops and livestock topics. Swimming, softball, and recreation were also part of the week’s activities. For boys growing up in rural and often isolated communities, the Short Course was an opportunity to make new friends and swap ideas.
County 4-H councils for boys’ club work were started in 1929-1930 in Escambia, Hillsborough, Lake, Union, and Walton counties. A state council for boys club work was set up in 1930 at the Boys State 4-H Short Course.
Blacklock was part of the work to build the 4-H camping program. 4-H members had held their first camp in 1917 when Clay County 4-H’ers went camping on Kingsley’s Lake. The following year, the boys and girls of Polk County camped at Wanauna, while the boys and girls from Floridatown camped at Floridatown.
The prevalence of fleas, redbugs and mosquitoes, as well as a lack of equipment had Blacklock and district agent J. Lee Smith working to come up with a plan for 4-H camping. While on a trip through west Florida, Lee remarked to Blacklock that he wished there was a place in west Florida with suitable accommodations that club boys and girls could go to camp for a week in the summertime.
“Well, it has not been long since the supervisors of Choctawhatchee National Forest told me that there was an ideal spot for such a camp at White Point on Choctawhatchee Bay and that they would be glad to have someone build a camp there,” said Blacklock, as Lee recalled. Before leaving west Florida, they visited the forest manager and visited the proposed location – and 4-H Camp Timpoochee began to become a reality.
4-H members raised more than $500 for the camp’s building fund by donating chickens and produce to sell. Blacklock devoted considerable effort to contacting business people (and especially sawmill owners) and county commissioners to request help and donations with building the camp, and personally supervised much of its construction.
4-H Camp Timpoochee opened on Choctawhatchee Bay in west Florida in 1926 and became the first permanent 4-H camp in Florida. “Though these places are called “camps,” truly they are recreational, educational, and inspirational institutions,” said J. Lee Smith. “The programs are designed to give 4-H clubbers who attend the most possible in play, and in better farm and homemaking during the one week annually.”
Blacklock’s contributions to the much-beloved 4-H camping program are deeply appreciated. “He established the 4-H camping system as we know it in Florida. He instituted the Wildlife Camp and obtained sponsorship,” remembered Busby.
His work profoundly impacted 4-H members. “He believed in what 4-H could do for young men from rural backgrounds. I was directly influenced by this man in making a decision to attend the University of Florida and to study agriculture,” said Joe Busby.
He provided dynamic leadership to the 4-H program and his influence is still felt today by many.