It was 1940. Eight-year-old David W. Timberlake was playing in a ditch one day in rural Arkansas when a car pulled up and a man asked, “Boy, how old are you?” Timberlake told the man his age and the man stepped out of the car and said, “You need to be in 4-H then.” That man turned out to be a county 4-H agent. It was Timberlake’s introduction to an organization that he continues to maintain a relationship with more than a half-century later.
Timberlake credits his involvement in 4-H with providing him self-confidence and guidance at a time in his life when he needed it the most. “My dad died when I was 13 and there were no other men in the family,” says Timberlake.
He was selected as Hepstead County 4-H boy of the year in 1945 for his project in watermelons and livestock. He also attended the National 4-H Livestock Convention in Kansas City, Missouri in 1945.
The 4-H agent and volunteer leaders played an important role in his life. “Because of our circumstances I needed help. Both help from leaders who knew our situation, but also physical help - helping me with my projects, helping me get my livestock to shows. They provided support that I just wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
According to Timberlake, 4-H provided him with a keen interest in agricultural science and developed in him a keen thirst for knowledge. “I came from this poor area of Arkansas,” says Timberlake, “I was learning more in my 4-H club about effective ways of farming and growing, than the farmers in my area.”
Finding a direction in life was part of his growth as a 4-H member. “4-H is a terrific program,” says Timberlake. “It provides youth with direction and a purpose. They go in as kids and they come out with a better understanding of what they want to be, where they want to go.”
4-H inspired him to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture from the University of Arkansas, as well as a Master’s of Education Administration from the University of Hawaii. Timberlake went on to serve as a distinguished captain in the United States Navy and a professor of Naval Science at the University of West Florida.
“I think 4-H provides a great service to youth,” says Timberlake. “Over the years I have been involved in many different youth organizations, but 4-H stands out. It provides something to everyone and is a valuable service.”
Timberlake has found many ways to give back to 4-H during his forty-plus years involvement as a member and volunteer. He became a 4-H volunteer in 1972, and he’s never left.
He organized and directed a 4-H goat project for disadvantaged elementary school students. In addition to helping supply the goats, Timberlake housed many of them on his land and shuttled students to and from the school to his property so they could care for the animals.
One of the students went to Stanford University, although he’s not sure he can credit that entirely to the 4-H goat project. “I don’t know if the program had anything to do with that or not, but I don’t think it hurt,” said Timberlake.
His knowledge of livestock from his youth came in handy. He coached Escambia County 4-H’s meats judging team for three years.
Timberlake was also instrumental in establishing the Escambia County 4-H Foundation, a program that manages the private money donated to 4-H for educational activities like 4-H summer camp, Florida 4-H Congress and State 4-H Legislature. He served as president of the foundation’s board of directors.
He sees his role with the county foundation as providing access for all children, regardless of circumstances, to educational opportunities in 4-H. “We needed a vehicle for 4-H to ensure that the largest number of kids can participate in all 4-H has to offer, regardless of their family income,” says Timberlake. “Our goal is to make sure that no one is priced out of the program.”
The Escambia County 4-H Foundation has become a model for other county 4-H programs, and Timberlake is often asked to speak about the foundation’s management, goals, and fundraising in other states.
In addition to his service with 4-H, Timberlake has served in many other community capacities. He was instrumental in developing the Pensacola/Escambia HRC into an active force for better race relations in Escambia County. He was a member of the Escambia County School Board Advisory Committee for Finance, and the Escambia County Law Enforcement Citizenship Committee.
When asked how he thinks 4-H differs today from when he started out as an eight-year-old, Timberlake says, “When I started it was for farm kids, but today it’s for everybody. We don’t have a lot of farm kids any more, but we have a lot of kids who need something, a place to belong. 4-H is such worthy cause and it provides a valuable service to all kids.”