Dr. Harold “Brownie” Brown ‘61, ‘65G was principal of Hermon High School in 1967 when he was asked by Win Libbey, then dean of the University of Maine’s College of Agriculture, to join the faculty as a Cooperative Extension educator and oversee the 4-H program in Waldo County.
“At the time, I didn’t know much about Cooperative Extension or 4-H,” Brownie says. “I never knew the University of Maine had an outreach program for kids. But Win gave me a good, thorough educational presentation about 4-H and its goals.”
He took the job.
Brownie couldn’t have known that 4-H would be the beginning of a long career in youth education at UMaine. He spent the next 33 years as Cooperative Extension 4-H educator, including 17 years as the state 4-H program coordinator.
Retiring in 2000, he says he looked forward to going to work every day.
“My career here gave me the chance to work with this state and this nation’s finest young people. After I became involved with 4-H, I never worried much about the future of this country because I learned that we’ve got a ton of young men and women behind the scenes quietly doing outstanding things.”
He credits UMaine with preparing him academically and giving him a career that he truly loved. “I wouldn’t be what I am today if it wasn’t for this institution,” says Brownie, who supports the Pine Tree State 4H Club Program and the Pine Tree 4H Foundation, as well as other funds and initiatives. “I thoroughly believe that UMaine is the one, single institution that will have the greatest impact on the success and survival of our state. The biggest thing I tell people is that if they feel as I do, then it’s very important to help UMaine any way they can.”
Originally organized for agricultural education, 4-H grew out of the boys and girls clubs of the early 20th century. But 4-H has changed with the times. Today, while animal husbandry and gardening are still an important part of its curriculum, the program also focuses on helping its 30,000 young members ages 5-18 develop leadership, citizenship and life skills. “We’ve got excellent programs in economics, science and technology, as well as in business and entrepreneurship,” Brownie says. “Another big thing today is getting kids involved in volunteerism and community service.
“We’re more than cows and cooking.”
Past state president of the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents, and recipient of a number of their achievement and distinguished service awards, Brownie was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2005. He currently serves as president of the University’s Pine Tree 4-H Foundation which supports 4-H activities and provides post-secondary scholarships, grants and international travel awards to young people in Maine.
He is most proud of having lead the development of Maine 4-H’s international programs which began offering exchange experiences with Costa Rica and Japan in the late 80’s and early ‘90’s.
“That was the pinnacle of my professional career,” says Brownie, who graduated from UMaine with a bachelor’s degree in 1961 and a master’s degree in 1965.
“I wanted to expose Maine kids to another piece of the world. In those days, people in Maine tended to be very parochial. Many never even went out of state. So it was a way to help broaden young people’s horizons.”
Although the Costa Rican program no longer exists, the exchange with Japan continues to flourish.
“Japanese parents feel comfortable with 4-H programs,” says Brownie. “They have always thought of 4-H families as wholesome and close knit, with many of the same qualities they value. They also like the connection with the University.”
Not only did the young people make friends, but their parents also forged close relationships, Brownie says. Many families who were involved in the exchange program still visit each other to this day.
The National 4-H Congress was another way to provide young Mainers with new experiences, says Brownie, who served for four years as chair of the annual event where outstanding 4-H members from every state gather for a five day educational program. The event provides a unique leadership opportunity that focuses on community service, career development and cultural diversity.
“The kids would stay in grand hotels with waitered meals. Sometimes there would be more silver in front of a kid than his mother had in their entire house. There were tours all over the area and the kids got a tremendous amount of experience as well as exposure to potential careers,” Brownie says.
Cooperative Extension discovered years ago that disseminating the University’s important research information was best done by the members of its youth development education program, according to Brownie.
“We’d use the 4-H kids as demonstration. Adults would say to themselves, ‘what is Junior doing to grow his calf twice as big as mine? Why did my daughter’s canned tomatoes last longer and taste better than mine? Why is the kids’ garden producing better than mine?’ That’s how Extension got adults to start utilizing the research coming from UMaine.”
Image Description: Dr. Harold "Brownie" Brown '61, '65G