Presentation of Remembrance: David C. Wood
Presented by Diana Orban Brown, Director
Office of Community Engagement
David C. Wood was a longtime 4-H Youth Development Agent in Atlantic County for Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
David died on June 24th of last year (2012), just three days before his 91st birthday. I never met David, but I feel that I know him because of what I have learned about him and also the fact that my own father, who died a few years ago at age 92, was of the same generation.
David Wood was devoted to 4-H and spent 30 years developing and implementing innovative programs to support the youth of Atlantic County.
He single-handedly organized the construction of the 4-H center in the county by persuading and cajoling local businessmen, tradespeople, service providers and workmen to volunteer time and goods to build a 60-by-100-foot building with a stage and a kitchen on 12 acres for youth activities. Later they added a horse barn and arena fencing for equine activities. Very appropriately, it is named the David C. Wood 4-H Center and it serves as a busy gathering place in Egg Harbor.
In recognition of his service, which continued well beyond his retirement in 1978, he was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in November 2011.
David was born on a farm in Gloucester County and graduated from Glassboro High School in 1939. A vocational agriculture teacher there, seeing David’s love of farming, encouraged him to apply to Rutgers College of Agriculture. He was accepted and given a scholarship, but being poor he had no money for room and board. So Dean Frank Helyar assigned him and a few other young men to the Poultry Administration Building, where they lived in the attic. David stoked the furnace and took out the ashes in payment for the room. One of the poultry professors would give the guys some eggs from time to time to supplement their meager meals of scrapple, which cost 10 cents a tin.
When David was a sophomore, news of Pearl Harbor shook the United States and the Rutgers Campus. David tried to enlist, but his eyesight was bad, so he was deferred and finally called up in his last semester. In fact, the university mailed his diploma to him at Fort Dix. Between his junior and senior year, he married his high school sweetheart Norma, and they were happily married for 63 years before she passed away in 2006.
So David – like many we are honoring today – was a veteran of World War II. He served in Europe and then was shipped to the Pacific. Since the war was winding down, he was stationed in the Philippines, where he volunteered to teach modern agricultural practices to locals, before returning home to New Jersey.
Tom Brokaw described those of David’s era as the “Greatest Generation.” I would also say they were the generation of understatement.
Let me explain: Rutgers has an ongoing program called Rutgers Oral History. It started in 1994 to interview alumni about their lives, their experiences at Rutgers and their perspectives on their military service during World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. The transcripts of these interviews are maintained in an archive on the Rutgers website, and it is a fascinating, up-close look at what times were like in those eras.
David was interviewed in 2002 by Shaun Illingworth, director of Rutgers Oral History Archives, and Tim Fonseca, a student at the time who is now a New Jersey attorney.
So I mentioned understatement. Here are some excerpts from David’s interview: “My father was a farmer first, but not a very successful one. When I was a freshman at Glassboro High School, we had a bad hailstorm come through just as we were ready to pick the tomatoes for the can house. We lost the whole crop, and we lost the farm. So that was very disconcerting to me because I loved the farm. But that’s the way it goes.”
You will be glad to know, though, that after his days as a 4-H agent, David returned to farming, opening a Christmas tree farm and having a large vegetable garden. However, his greatest love was his family, and he enjoyed every minute spent with them during barbecues, Christmas gatherings and daily visits. When he passed away a year ago, it was peacefully in his own home in Mays Landing.
David is survived by a son Jeffrey and daughter Melissa, as well as five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Jeffrey and Melissa would have liked to have been here today, but Jeffrey is quite ill. Here is what Melissa wrote to me two days ago:
I am sorry, but my brother and I will not be attending the event on Saturday. He is in the hospital in Philadelphia, and we are not sure when he will be coming home. Thank you for all you have done for my father.” Signed: Melissa Clayton.
And thank you David C. Wood for all you have done for all of us.