Cherished in Florida 4-H lore, is the real-life story of 4-H members who donated their chickens in the 1920s to help raise the funds needed to build 4-H Camp Timpoochee on Choctawatchee Bay near Niceville. Oscar Harrison was one of the 4-H members who went to the train stop in 1926 and gave his chickens to help build the first 4-H camp in Florida. From its humble beginnings with tents in the 1920s, 4-H Camp Timpoochee has impacted thousands of youth throughout the decades.
Oscar Harrison joined 4-H at the age of 12 and participated in gardening, poultry and livestock projects. In 1926 Harrison and his fellow 4-H members donated chickens to raise $500 to build 4-H Camp Timpoochee.
Harrison attended the camp as a 4-Her, hauling his own meat and other staples for camp meals. Harrison later served as a camp counselor and would often visit 4-H Camp Timpoochee while he worked as a County Extension Agent, often making it a family affair.
“4-H was one of the greatest things in my dad’s life,” said son Don Harrison. “He was always taking kids to short courses and 4-H Camp at Camp Timpoochee and he’d take my brothers and I along. It became a family thing for us.”
During his time in 4-H, Harrison attended 4-H Short Course for boys at the University of Florida three times. It was during this time that a desire for higher education and a future career path took hold. The short course was the early forerunner of today’s Florida 4-H Congress.
"4-H had a tremendous impact on my life because it taught me self-reliance to depend on myself and not others. 4-H taught me how to win without boasting. 4-H taught me to make the best better and guided me into extension work," Harrison said.
“You won’t find a person who believed in giving youth opportunity more than Oscar Harrison,” said Bruce Ward, Walton County Extension. “He believed in people. People who are 75 years old are still singing the praises of him.”
Many of these people had the opportunity to honor Harrsion in person at a recent celebration in honor of his 100th birthday. That’s right, Harrison is a centenarian.
“Of the 250-300 people who were there, I’d say the majority of them were former 4-H club members,” said Harrison’s son Don. “One of his former club members became an extension agent and worked for 35-40 years. My Dad had retired before this guy started working and he still impacted his life.”
Harrison worked as a county extension agent in Dixie, Washington and Walton counties. As an extension agent, Harrison was invaluable to Walton County 4-H and to the development of agriculture in the Florida panhandle. He procured grounds and building construction for the Walton County Fair. He also organized a rural telephone company in 1962 and introduced artificial cattle insemination techniques to area farmers.
“Mr. Harrison is very entertaining and a very good educator,” said Bruce Ward. “A couple of years ago he was asked to appear on a local television show. When I came to pick him up he was sitting on his porch waiting for me. He had his notes written out of what he wanted to say.”
In addition to his work with 4-H, Harrison has always been civically active. Until last year, he had a 59-year record of perfect attendance at Kiwanis Club meetings. He has always been very active in the Baptist church and served as an ombudsman member for nursing homes in northern Florida. He would visit nursing homes and report back to the state of Florida on the conditions he found.
Harrison also enjoys building birdhouses and has built more than 2,200 birdhouses to help increase blue bird populations in Florida.