William “Earl” Byrd became involved with 4-H youth programs when he signed up as a club member in 1926 at age 12. He raised chickens in the 4-H program, and later became a potato farmer, and a county commissioner.
“The first time I knew anything about 4-H, I was six or seven years old," recalls the Hastings native in talking with The St. Augustine Record. "My daddy was a farmer, and I grew up on the farm in Hastings, and my granddaddy was a farmer.”
"I was involved for about three years," he says of 4-H, but then Lonnie Blitch, the county agent who got 4-H started in Hastings, moved, "and we didn't have 4-H for a long time." The young 4-H member would grow up and work to ensure that there would be better support in place for 4-H programs in St. Johns County.
Byrd served as a county commissioner for St. Johns County for a record-breaking twenty-six years. In his role as a community leader, Byrd advocated strongly for support for the 4-H program. “He fought for 4-H in the county, and was instrumental in increasing funding which is still in effect today,” said Andy Toelle, St. Johns County 4-H agent.
In about the mid-1960s, he recalls, every time 4-H wanted to take a trip, Nettie Ruth Brown, St. Johns County home economist at the time, and the late Paul Dinkins, county extension agent, had to come before the St. Johns Board of County Commissioners to ask permission. "I said: 'This is embarrassing. Let's just set them up a budget,' " Byrd recalls.
In addition to the budget, Brown and Dinkins each received a station wagon to help with hauling 4-H members and supplied. "They were the makers of 4-H in St. Johns County," Byrd says of Brown and Dinkins. "They brought more trophies home."
“I never thought of what I did in terms of how often I did them, I just did what I thought was needed to be done to help 4-H,” said Earl Byrd.
But his support for 4-H did not stop there. He helped 4-H members attend state events, the Florida 4-H Congress, and national 4-H events. He also served on the St. Johns County 4-H Advisory Committee, where he offered input into the programs and activities available for young people within the county.
Byrd also showed his support of 4-H by donating the plaque for the outstanding 4-H boy and girl for twenty years that is given to St. Johns County 4-H members.
He praises 4-H for building character in young people. "4-H is one of the best things young people can go into. 4-H achievers usually turn out to be good citizens, and they kind of live 4-H right through their lives," Byrd says. "It's a good stepping stone for them."
He was recognized as a member of the Agricultural Hall of Fame in St. Johns County in 1989 and as a Florida 4-H alumni in 1977. He was the Outstanding Man in Agriculture in 1967 and was named a Friend of Extension Home Economics in 1970.