School of Rock

Open book

A newly published history of Rock Eagle 4-H Center, “Rock Eagle: Centerpiece of Georgia 4-H,” details how the camp, which started as a dream of then-State 4-H Leader Bill Sutton, grew into a place where millions of Georgia 4-H’ers create lifelong memories.

It took the book’s author Ina Cook Hopkins, a former Walton County, Georgia, 4-H’er, almost nine years to compile data, interview key subjects, write the text and work with graphic designer Carol Williamson to complete the book.

“This campus is not about bricks and mortar. It’s about people with a passion, and people are what this book is about,” Hopkins said of the 640-page publication, which includes almost 900 photos and resembles a textbook. “Never again will I take for granted what was accomplished by the founders (of Rock Eagle 4-H Center) and their successors to provide a brighter future for Georgia’s children.”

Jerry Whiteside is a former Polk County, Georgia, 4-H member and retired University of Georgia Cooperative Extension human resources director, who was the state 4-H leader when Rock Eagle 4-H Center was dedicated. At a launch event for the book held in December at the 4-H center, located outside of Eatonton, Georgia, he recounted his memories of attending 4-H camp before the Rock Eagle 4-H Center was built.

“He (Bill Sutton) convinced us that we, 4-H’ers, were going to play a major role in building that camp by conducting fundraisers and getting our parents, friends, neighbors and local business leaders excited about being a part of making our dream a reality for all Georgians … My first visit to Rock Eagle was from a State 4-H Council meeting in Milledgeville, (Georgia). We visited the Rock Eagle (Effigy) Mound and participated in the ground-breaking ceremony. The next year, we dedicated the first cabin. Then, in the fall of 1955, thousands of us participated in the center dedication. That next summer, I and 11 other lucky young people had the privilege of being members of the first group of Rock Eagle counselors. Over the past 60-plus years, the camp’s impact has been amazing,” said Whiteside.

Tom Rodgers, who was the state 4-H leader for 14 years, says the history book brought him back to his days as a camp counselor at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center.

“The memories and the good times poured from the pages,” said Rodgers, who initially visited the 4-H center to attend camp 57 years ago as a fifth-grade 4-H’er.

Georgia 4-H State Leader Arch Smith sees the book as much more than a history of the Rock Eagle 4-H Center.

“This book is also the story of the Native Americans; of the cotton and livestock that once covered this area; the Piedmont area; the Rock Eagle Effigy; the Rock Hawk Effigy; G.C. Adams, the father of 4-H; the creation of the Georgia 4-H Foundation,” said Smith, who joined the Georgia 4-H faculty as Rock Eagle’s center coordinator in 1988. “It’s about the children at the Baptist Children’s Home who gave up their eggs for breakfast to help fund the center, the prisoners who built the camp and their talents, the development of the camping program and, later, the environmental education program. It’s also about the other Georgia 4-H centers across the state, and it’s the best record book that’s ever been prepared by a Georgia 4-H’er.”

Order a copy of "Rock Eagle: Centerpiece of Georgia 4-H" through Georgia 4-H.

By Sharon Dowdy Cruse