Life Stories: Dalton Proctor led by example through decades in 4-H

08/31/2014 4:17 PM

08/31/2014 11:15 PM

When he was 12 years old, Dalton Proctor knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

While attending a 4-H competition in the mid-1940s, Proctor took a liking to a cooperative-extension specialist named Lyman Dixon and to others running the show. Years later, he recalled in an interview telling himself, “Someday I’d like to have a job just like that.”

Nearly 30 years later Proctor got his wish, replacing Dixon as associate state extension 4-H leader in 1975 after Dixon was promoted. The youth leadership program’s name stands for pledging head, heart, hands and health “to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

During his 36-year career with the state, Proctor worked just about every level of 4-H there was, beginning in Caswell County in 1958 as an assistant county extension agent, and retiring as head of the entire 4-H program for the state in 1995.

Proctor, 80, died this summer, after being inducted into both the state and national 4-H halls of fame. In 2011 he was also given the 4-H Lifetime Achievement Award.

Friends and family say Proctor encouraged countless children through everything from livestock shows to college applications, and was known for his generosity in 4-H circles worldwide.

“He will be missed, but his many positive influences will continue for generations,” said Michael Martin, former executive director of the North Carolina 4-H Development Fund.

Fund-raising powerhouse

Raised on a swine farm in Saratoga, just outside Wilson, Proctor didn’t want to work on the farm so much as he wanted to work with it. Deeply rooted in rural life, 4-H work originally focused on agricultural skills such as raising livestock and planting crops.

During Proctor’s tenure that focus shifted, and he was known for his willingness to champion new ideas. It worked, and under his leadership, state 4-H enrollment more than doubled.

“Proctor was instrumental in the development of the ‘Cooperative Curriculum Systems,’ by which 4-H project curriculum were professionalized across the southern states,” Martin said.

It helped that he was a “powerhouse” at fund-raising. He estimated that he was involved in raising some $50 million at the county, state and national 4-H levels.

“Another of Dr. Proctor’s lasting legacies to 4-H was his ability to forge the relationships to secure vast funds of public and private resources to support 4-H. In addition to the millions of dollars he raised and coordinated in North Carolina, I believe he was the personal connection that yielded a $1 million gift to build the Ralph W. Ketner Hall at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center. The North Carolina lobby in Ketner Hall is dedicated to the Proctors,” Martin said of the Washington, D.C., facility.

As a leader in 4-H, Proctor made sure his staff understood their work was appreciated.

“There is a 4-H agent in all 100 counties of North Carolina. Dalton was in the Army Reserve for a long time,” said his wife, Ruby. “Each summer when he went to his two weeks of annual training, at night and weekends, he would send each of the 100 agents a handwritten note telling them how much he appreciated the good job they were doing in their county. They were all just overwhelmed that he would take the time to do that.”

A mentor to many

Proctor was inspired by his work and by the values of 4-H . “Life skills,” he called them. “Responsible citizenship.” He was known for living those ideals.

Larry Stogner, senior broadcast journalist for ABC11 news, remembers Proctor not only as his local extension agent in Yanceyville, but also as his favorite Little League coach.

“He meant a lot to me as a Little League coach. My parents divorced when I was 10 and I really didn’t have anybody that could substitute as a father figure, and he sort of filled that role, even though he was young,” Stogner said.

In doing the math, Stogner realized that Proctor was in his mid-20s and still a newlywed when he volunteered to coach ball. “He seemed much older to me.”

Ruby Proctor said her husband always loved children, which also informed his love for his job.

“Kids just were drawn to him. He just knew how to relate to children. He just mentored so many,” she said.

His family shares many of the same sentiments about a loving father and husband.

“We dated four years, and were married for 58, and he always remembered the first day that we dated. He sent me flowers on that date every year,” Ruby Proctor said.

Many remember him by one of his favorite mottoes: “A child is not a thing to be molded, but a person to be unfolded.”

News researcher Teresa Leonard contributed to the reporting of this article.

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