4-H Alumni and Retiree Spotlight
Edward Merritt – Retired Hartford County Administrator, 4-H Agent and MA 4-H Alumni
By Nancy Wilhelm, Program Coordinator, State 4-H Office
At 83 Ed Merritt remembers a lot of exciting experiences during his time with the Hartford County Extension Program. He came to UConn Extension on October 1, 1963 directly from a National 4-H Fellowship in Washington, D.C. and was hired to serve as the Hartford County 4-H Agent. At the time, the Hartford County Extension Office was located in a two-story brick building at 6 Grand Street in Hartford.
Ed grew up in Goshen, Massachusetts, a little town of about 200 people. The youngest of three children, he lived on a farm during the 1930s and was a member of a 4-H woodworking club. Ed states, “There was an older gentleman in town who worked with four or five boys. Most of my projects were poultry and dairy because of the farm. I also grew vegetables such as potatoes and corn which was income for the farm and had a little maple syrup operation. I say little, but in those days, it was a lot. We made about 100 gallons a year if you had a good year.” Ed was also a delegate to National 4-H Conference. He graduated from UMass with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and went directly to New Hampshire to serve as a 4-H Extension Agent in Cheshire, NH. His wife Jessie, (now deceased) was a 4-H member in New Hampshire and an active 4-H volunteer in Connecticut. Ed and Jessie met through 4-H, and their four children were actively involved in 4-H as well.
Ed was drafted into the U.S. Army for two years. He was stationed at, “nobody believes this, but it is true,” he states, 346 Broadway, New York City. He was recruited to do meat inspections for the massive wholesale orders going into packing plants. At the end of two years, he returned to UNH Extension where he remained for four years until 1962 where he was selected as one of six young Ex-tension 4-H personnel from around the country to serve as National 4-H Fellows. This was a fascinating experience because, as Ed relates, they got to know the top personnel in all of the USDA agencies. It really opened his eyes to the work of Extension at the national level.
During his tenure with UConn Extension, Ed recalls several important projects during the 1960s and 70s that highlight the expansion of Extension in Hartford County. The federal government had developed the CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) Program which provided grant funds for a variety of programs. Beth Salsedo, who was hired at the time to establish 4-H work in the town of Bristol applied for a CETA grant and was awarded funds to hire six people to establish those clubs. The CE-TA program expanded and the Hartford County Extension Program ended up with five different contracts and a total of 30 new hires. The 1960s also saw the purchase of land in Marlborough, CT to build a 4-H camp. The camp opened in July of 1966. It was also the birth of 4-H programming in the city of Hart-ford. An Extension office was located on Vine Street in the North end of Hartford to focus on urban programming.
The establishment of the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield was also a major highlight of this time period. It initially began as a project to re-vive the old apple orchard at Auerfarm and give youth work experience. Ed and his family were heavily involved in the project for several years. The Koopman and Schiro families ultimately gifted a large portion of the property to the CT 4-H Development Fund.
Ed notes that some of the great strengths of 4-H include the volunteer leadership component as well as youth building leadership experiences through fairs, camp and the local club structure. He adds that 4-H in many ways is a com-munity within itself with youth forming lasting friendships and learning to help others. Ed recalls interactions with many wonderful people in 4-H and Extension overall.