Newswise — AUSTIN – Looking at downtown Austin and watching all the activity of a modern, urban center, it’s easy to overlook the rural and agrarian roots of Travis County – roots that still run deep.
But the recent Travis County History Day served as a reminder of the county’s past, while also celebrating the 100th anniversary of the national Cooperative Extension System of land-grant universities throughout the U.S.
“This year marks the centennial anniversary of the signing of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, which officially created the national Cooperative Extension System,” said Dolores Sandmann, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county director, Travis County. “When land-grant universities reached out to rural areas, they revolutionized education in America, making it possible for average people to obtain knowledge that could improve their lives and livelihoods.
“The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service continues to serve the mission of educating and assisting residents of Travis County and the rest of our state.”
More than 100 people attended the 7th annual Travis County History Day Oct. 24 in the Hall of Government at 700 Lavaca St. The event was sponsored by the Austin Bar Association, Austin History Center, AgriLife Extension, Travis County Archives and Travis County Historical Commission. Attendees included current and former AgriLife Extension agents and other agency employees serving Travis County, county employees, members of the Travis County Master Gardeners association, area 4-H members and adult volunteers, members of the Travis County Extension Education Association, AmeriCorps volunteers and the public.
Travis County Judge Samuel Biscoe served as master of ceremonies and Dr. Doug Steele, AgriLife Extension director, College Station, was the special guest speaker. Activities included a historical display area, presentations and entertainment in the Travis County Hall of Government and a reception during which agriculture-related vintage film clips from the 1920s and ‘30s were shown.
The event began with attendees visiting the various displays representing Travis County’s rural and agrarian roots and the various educational, informational and leadership programs offered through the Cooperative Extension System in Texas. Displays included examples of farming implements, clothing, quilts and 4-H memorabilia from the past century, as well as various archival photos of rural Travis County.
“This was the final day for the displays,” said Christy Moilanen, Travis County archivist. “The displays were set up and made available for viewing by the general public on Oct. 16 and this is the final day they will be here. Since they were set up, hundreds of people have passed through and looked at them.”
After visiting the display area, attendees were ushered into the commissioners court public seating area, where they were entertained by area 4-H club members who danced and sang for them, then listened to presentations by Biscoe and Steele.
During his presentation, Biscoe touted Travis County History Day as a “wonderful opportunity to celebrate and educate others about the rich history of Travis County and to commemorate the tireless work Extension agents and staff have performed for the community.”
“Even as the population of Austin surpassed the number of residents living in the county’s outlying communities and as Travis County gradually transformed from a rural community to an urban one, Extension has played an important role in the development and betterment of Travis County and its residents,” he said. “With programs such as 4-H, horticulture, agriculture and natural resources, and family and consumer sciences, residents have access to valuable information and resources that help improve their lives.”
Biscoe then asked that all former and current AgriLife Extension agents and staff stand and be recognized before introducing Steele.
In his presentation, Steele noted that AgriLife Extension continues to carry out the land-grant mission of teaching, research and service to the residents of Texas by bringing practical, objective, research-based knowledge through its programs and activities. He added that many of the issues of the state’s past remain as challenges today and will continue well into the future.
“We have identified five ‘grand challenges’ that AgriLife Extension is committed to help all Texans address going into the next 100 years,” he told the audience, stating those challenges are: feeding the world, improving human health, protecting natural resources, enriching youth and growing the economy.
“As we move forward into this new century, we need to make sure we help urban counties understand the importance of Extension programs in helping them meet these ongoing challenges,” he said. “I believe our best years are yet to come.”