Thomas Skinner was inducted into the Florida 4-H Hall of Fame long after his death, but his legacy with the 4-H program remains strong. When asked how her late husband Tom Skinner felt about 4-H, Maxine Skinner sighed and said, “Oh, it was one of the great loves of his life.”
Thomas C. Skinner’s love affair with 4-H began in the 1930s when he joined the local 4-H club in Alachua County. Skinner spent four years exploring poultry, swine and field crops at both the county and state levels. He also took on leadership roles, serving as 4-H club secretary and vice-president. He spend two years as 4-H club president.
4-H played a key role in shaping his career path and life choices. Before he passed away, Skinner said, “4-H stimulated me to further my education through visits to the University of Florida campus as a 4-H member.”
Skinner remained a life-long friend of 4-H and worked with extension education and 4-H programs from 1953 through his retirement in 1980. His career as a professor of Agricultural Engineering at University of Florida kept him closely tied to the Cooperative Extension System, and Skinner was able to continue to contribute to the success of 4-H programs.
He established the first 4-H Tractor Driving Contest, and secured funding for it from the Ford tractor company’s Florida branch. He was also deeply involved in the designing and building of Florida’s 4-H camps.
Skinner went the extra mile to secure the materials to build them for free as donations, or at a discounted price. He spent many hours with 4-H personnel inspecting the facilities to make sure they were suitable for young people. He also designed facilities for 4-H and agricultural use at fairgrounds.
“Tom was instrumental in getting and keeping those campsites in good order for the young people,” said Mrs. Skinner. “He worked with those people at the campsites to make sure they did their job well.”
Skinner shared his time and resources generously with the Florida 4-H Foundation. He never hesitated to use business connections he had with the Kiwanis Club and other organizations to secure resources for many 4-H programs. His expertise, commitment to excellence, and strong character helped Florida 4-H provide better facilities and programs for young people.
As a professor of Agricultural Engineering at the University of Florida and a consultant for many years, Skinner promoted and improved agricultural engineering practices not only in Florida but nationally and internationally as well. He also taught many 4-H alumni in his classes, who discovered his practical application of engineering knowledge to 4-H sprang from a quick mind and a love for learning.
After his retirement from the University of Florida, Professor Skinner continued to donate his time to assist the 4-H camps with their facility projects. He never lost his willingness to help 4-H, even after founding a successful consulting business during his retirement.
Why did he love 4-H so much? “Tom loved 4-H because he thought it afforded the young people some background training for becoming productive adults and making a contribution to society,” said Mrs. Skinner. “He thought it helped round out their lives. It helps them with associations with other people, being responsible and dependable.”