Emily King is a long-time friend to 4-H. “Since I was twelve years old, I wanted to work in 4-H,” said Emily King. Her aunt was a home demonstration agent in Tennessee who would help the curious little girl learn how to tell which chickens would produce the most eggs. “I thought it was pretty wonderful. I thought it was magic,” said King.
Emily King served as an assistant county home demonstration agent in Plant City, Florida from 1946-1953. Her 4-H programs in east Hillsborough County thrived because the 4-H program had a relationship with the public school system that allowed the extension programs into the schools. “I thought that was good to be able to reach every child in the county in 4-H,” said King.
Her work in Hillsborough County with 4-H opened eyes and minds. She worked cooperatively with the agricultural agent who managed programs for 4-H boys and they did many joint and coeducational outings for the club members, at a time when these programs were often still kept apart. “I think we opened doors for the 4-H youngsters that had not had opportunities before. Any child could be in 4-H that wanted to be in 4-H,” said King.
For King, it was about giving young people the opportunity to grow, learn, and take leadership. “Anything that I did was giving them opportunities,” said King. “We had 4-H club camps, and we ran them, but we had our older girls plan the programs and do the recreation and the vespers and help with all of the teaching. So there was opportunity for them to learn more than just teaching skills. I feel like I get a lot of credit for what they did. I didn’t do it, they did it. And I got promoted on their shoulders because they were doing so well and the program was so good.”
“At that time there were a lot more girls in the 4-H program than boys in Florida,” said King. “Camp was great. We didn’t camp with the boys – we had the whole camp for the girls. But sometimes you would be where there’d be boys on one side and girls on another. They had joint program and assembly programs and recreation programs and all kinds of subject matter classes. They took responsibility for cleaning up the kitchen and waiting tables and things like that.”
As an assistant agent she found ways to encourage and help many 4-Hers achieve their potential. Earlece Greenawalt, one of her former 4-H members said, “Dr. King has contributed mightily to 4-H and the people it serves through her loyalty, professionalism and pioneering spirit. I and countless others have learned from her vivid and inspiring examples how to see and enjoy the humor in unique situations, appreciate a wide variety of people, live life to the fullest by embracing change and challenge, find joy in giving back to society and never, ever dwell on the negative.”
She worked as State Girls 4-H Club Agent from 1953-1963 at Florida State University, where the state programs for 4-H girls were headquartered. “The program for Florida 4-H girls, under her leadership, had excellent state short courses and camping programs,” said Ruth Milton, who worked on the state 4-H staff with Dr. King. She noted that King found ways to encourage their potential, and that many of her 4-H members remain in touch with her, even decades later.
King also started the 4-H home judging event, which is now known as Consumer Choices, at the North Florida Fair in Tallahassee. This event is now offered statewide to county 4-H programs and district fairs. Giving back to the community was also an important value King stressed to 4-H members. “She encouraged 4-H girls to be involved with civic and community groups in their communities and at the state level,” said Milton.
The 4-H Short Courses in Tallahassee brought 4-H club girls from throughout Florida to learn and grow, and were a big part of King’s job. “The Short Courses were very detailed. It was unusually done that they could move that many people and not have any glitches,” said King. She said that the staff at Florida State University supported 4-H work. “Miss [Anna Mae] Sikes expected every specialist to do their 4-H club work. I never had to teach food or clothing. My job was to see that the specialists had the opportunity to do their thing.”
She helped set in motion planning when boys and girls clubs were combined in 1963, and her hard work and foresight made it a much smoother transition from two programs to one. There were also tough decisions to make about how limited resources were allocated, “There was always a question about spending time and money on the ones that were doing the best and the rest being left without,” said King. “If you can get the top level of youngsters involved in 4-H then the rest of them come along. As I looked at it – some of those kids in 4-H – they were already 90% - their parents were 100% behind them – they had every opportunity. They were intelligent. You had to teach them that 4-H colors were green and white and you had to teach them to sing dreaming. They were bound to be at the top of the heap. If you could get some of these other kids to join – they’d be at the 45 or 50 percent mark. But if you could raise these other kids 15 or 20 points – what you’ve done is unbelievable.”
King gave major leadership to the development of the Florida 4-H Foundation by working with donors, sponsors and other colleagues. She also served as its first secretary for two years. King consistently continues to assist with judging events, achievement days and other special 4-H activities.
Then Dr. King became an extension specialist in the College of Home Economics faculty at Florida State University from 1964-1969 where she served in a teaching role. She worked as extension’s program and evaluation specialist at the University of Florida from 1969-1979.
King found great inspiration in working with the 4-H program and the Cooperative Extension Service. "The idea of extension is one of the greatest concepts to enter the mind of man. It is missionary work not related to religion. Anytime you help and support others you enrich your own life," King said.
Dr. King was a recipient of the Kellogg Fellowship for Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin and earned her doctorate in extension education and administration. King has been recognized in many ways, and is named to Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges, Who’s Who in Education, and Who’s Who of American Women. She is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma and Epsilon Sigma Phi.
Retiring has not put Emily King out of touch with 4-H. It always remains as a presence and influence in her life.