David C. Wood was Atlantic County’s 4-H agent for 30 years, until 1978. But even when he retired, Wood never really left 4-H.
The group wraps up its annual county 4-H Fair today — the hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — at the David C. Wood 4-H Center and Fairgrounds, which is named for Wood because there was no such thing before he took over at 4-H.
That was in 1948. Wood spotted the 12 acres — on Route 50 in Galloway Township’s South Egg Harbor section — for sale in the 1950s, and got a real estate agent to sell it to the youth-development organization for $1,000. The agent later returned $800 of that purchase price, Wood recalled in a 2002 oral-history interview with Rutgers University, his alma mater, which oversees 4-H in New Jersey.
“He could talk you into anything,” said Frani Hagel, a 4-H leader from Hamilton Township’s Cologne section and Wood’s friend for 60 years. “He could just drive you into it. And when it came time to build (the center), he said, ‘We’re going to do this — can we get some help?’ And bang, everyone was there to help.”
Hagel said this year’s 4-H Fair will be the first that Wood will miss in decades, although his name will be all over the fairgrounds. Wood, of Hamilton Township, died June 24, days before his 91st birthday, and his family is planning a future memorial service for him. Posters are up at the David C. Wood 4-H Center advising the namesake’s old friends that a funeral is coming, although it has to be delayed by family complications.
And 4-H was very much a family activity for Wood. His wife, Norma, was a longtime 4-H club leader, and their three kids all grew up in the group.
“It was his life, and it was our life,” said Melissa Clayton, 59, of Hamilton Township, Dave and Norma’s daughter. “We went to 4-H camp every year, and most of my friends as I was growing up, I met through 4-H.”
BJ Webersinn, 61, of Cape May Court House, can trace her career choice directly to Wood — she recently retired after 37 years as a 4-H agent in Cape May County. She said she got involved in 4-H at age 6 and met her mentor soon after.
“He was a wonderfully motivating person,” Webersinn said. “I always say that 4-H and Mr. Wood told me I was wonderful for so long, I started to believe it.”
They worked together as colleagues for a few years after she became an agent, and she was proud to work on Wood’s nomination to the National 4-H Hall of Fame. He was inducted in November.
But he had been recognized by the people who knew him long before that. Clayton, his daughter, can’t say exactly when Atlantic County’s 4-H property was named in honor of Wood. But she does know her dad was very proud when it was.
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