Many people know Joe Busby for his work with the Florida Cooperative Extension Program, which he headed, and for his support for 4-H locally, statewide, and nationally. But few people know how pivotal 4-H was to his own life.
His 4-H involvement began in fourth grade in 1930, when county agent Cliff Hyatt came to his school in Lake County and organized a 4-H club. He went to 4-H camp that very first summer, and they camped in the scrub forest. Joe remembers “we took Kroger sacks and filled them with pull moss from the trees, and then the whole camp had a scratchin’ good time with redbugs.”
Joe talked to his dad about what kind of 4-H project to start, and he helped him with his poultry project. Joe went to the county fair with his chickens, and represented Lake County on its judging team, which won the state contest.
A new assistant county extension agent named Wilmer Bassett was hired , who would play an important role in Joe’s life. During Joe’s senior year in high school, Wilmer took Joe and the other 4-H’ers to 4-H Camp McQuarrie, where they took an American Red Cross life-saving course. They formed a Lake County 4-H swimming team.
After graduating from high school, Joe was hired as a lifeguard for the summer camping session at 4-H Camp McQuarrie. His summer job as a lifeguard helped fund his college education. His salary was deposited directly into an account at the University of Florida to help pay his tuition. Mr. Blacklock, the first 4-H agent in Florida, was a co-signer on the account.
Joe remembers going to Mr. Blacklock and asking if he could withdraw $10 from the account so he could go visit his girlfriend, Elta, in Tallahassee, where she attended Florida State College for Women. Mr. Blacklock said no, and Joe had to find another way to get to Tallahassee to visit Etta, who eventually became his wife.
He also won a scholarship to attend Florida 4-H Congress for boys at the University of Florida. “I think without question that my experiences at 4-H Congress made me really fall in love with the University of Florida,” said Joe.
In 1939 during his freshman year at the University of Florida, Joe and the judging team went to National 4-H Congress in Chicago. Another member of that team, Henry Swanson, is also in the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame.
While in college, Joe continued working with the Florida 4-H program, and he assisted with the special camps held at 4-H Camp McQuarrie, as well as the Wildlife Camp at 4-H Camp Timpoochee and the newly-built 4-H Camp Cherry Lake.
But those happy days in college and working with 4-H would soon end for Joe. Six weeks after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Joe enlisted in the Army Air Corps and spent several years flying the ocean and serving our country during the Second World War.
He returned to the University of Florida to finish his coursework and graduated in January 1947. Joe tried to find a job with the extension service , but nothing was available at first. But that soon changed. Joe was offered a job in Manatee County to work with 4-H, and he was involved in building 4-H Camp Cloverleaf. One of his job duties included clipping dairy calves and helping 4-Hers get ready to take them to shows.
Two years later, Joe was hired to assistant state boys 4-H agent with Woodrow Brown. “We worked fairs and things all over the state. Weekends were almost nonexistent,” said Joe, yet somehow he managed to start working on his doctorate at the university.
But then war intervened again, and Joe was recalled by the US Air Force to support the Korean War and he flew a combat tour. He advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force. He received the “Oak Leaf Cluster” and the “Distinguished Flying Cross.” When Joe returned again after two years at war, he took a job with the Plant Board and conducted the first citrus census in Florida.
Most of the professors who had agreed to work with Joe on his doctorate were gone, so he had to find a new project. He did his PhD in climatology and did research on wind machines for frost protection. The new project for his dissertation let him apply what he had learned in the Air Force as a pilot, to a technology that would help Florida agriculture.
Marshall O. Watkins offered Joe a job as assistant director for extension at the University of Florida. Joe worked with the state 4-H staffs at the University of Florida, Florida State College for Women, and Florida A&M University.
One of his first tasks was solving a big problem for the 4-H program. The state legislature had passed a law saying that any funds collected by the state, had to go into a state account. This made it impossible or the state 4-H program to fund scholarship and awards for 4-H members. Joe called the US Department of Agriculture for advice, and they suggested starting a foundation that could be used to hold the scholarship and award funds.
So the Florida 4-H Foundation was created, with Marshall O. Watkins as the first chair of the Board of Directors.”We decided to enlarge the board and bring in some prominent outside people who were helping us in 4-H, and that has led to real successes in the operation of the board,” said Joe. “I’ve been very pleased with the way the foundation has been able to succeed and grow.”
Joe was also involved in writing the grant that would bring the Sea Grant program to the University of Florida. He eventually became Dean of Extension, overseeing all cooperative extension programs in Florida. He later did work with the US Agency for International Development and traveled extensively in Africa working in agriculture for several years.
He retired from the University of Florida as Dean Emeritus. Joe is a member of the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy Legislature sub-committee, which charts policy for the Cooperative Extension Service at a national level. He is a past-president of the Florida 4-H Foundation. He is a member of Gamma Sigma Delta. Alpha Zeta, the Horticultural Society and the Florida Academy of Science.