When he joined his first 4-H club in fourth grade, Charles Cox had no idea the impact it would have on his life and his choice of career. And what a long and storied career he has had – a career spanning nearly three and one-half decades.
His involvement in the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service started with his first animal exhibit as a 4-H’er – a trio of rabbits that promptly ate their championship ribbon off their cage – to today when he has been named an inductee into the prestigious National 4-H Hall of Fame.
This honor is presented yearly to recognize the lifelong achievements, leadership and contributions to 4-H at the local, state, national and international levels. Cox joins 15 other Class of 2019 Laureates who received this award at the National 4-H Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
After completing his bachelor’s degree at Oklahoma State University, and later his master’s and doctorate degrees, Cox began his Extension career in 1979 as an agriculture and 4-H agent in Woods County. He later moved to Logan County and became the county Extension director.
“Even though I’d been in 4-H for nine years in my youth, I discovered in those first few years of my professional career there was a lot about 4-H I didn’t know,” Cox said. “I always tried to make sure all of my educators, volunteers and members knew of every opportunity available to them and I did this throughout my whole career. Seeing others achieve through 4-H was the highlight of my 34-year career.”
Following his stint in various county positions, Cox moved to the State 4-H Office in 1988 as the curriculum specialist and assumed the responsibility for the production of both 4-H and Ag in the Classroom curriculum. Later, in 1998, he took on the role of state 4-H program leader. In this position, Cox was a leader and inspiration for 4-H members across the state. In fact, his motivation of the state officers and them meeting their fundraising goal that year lead him to sit on stage during State 4-H Roundup and let those same officers shave his head. Talk about motivation skills.
In 2007, he added the assistant director for Extension to his position and concurrently served as interim head for OSU’s Department of Agriculture Education, Communications and Leadership from 2008-2010.
He helped establish the Cloverbud program in Oklahoma and was instrumental in developing the Extension Internship Program that has provided dozens of college students the opportunity to spend a summer with Extension. His leaderships skills also have been evident in the collaborative efforts with Langston University and several of Oklahoma’s Native Nations. Through his leadership, he developed innovative programs for underserved audiences, and as a result, more than $2.6 million was raised for programs including office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Tribal Mentoring; Children, Youth and Families at Risk; National 4-H Council Healthy Living and Health Rocks; State Department of Education Learn and Service Programs and multiple Ag in the Classroom programs. He also served as adviser for Collegiate 4-H.
Following his retirement in 2013, he co-chaired the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Centennial Celebration. Through activities such as a time capsule, centennial train and a quilt project, Oklahoma was recognized as having the best Extension Centennial Celebration in the nation.
One of Cox’s favorite quotes is one he has tried to live throughout his professional career and in his personal life. The quote goes like this: “The best investment any of us can ever make is in the lives of others.” – Warren Buffet.
“Through my 4-H career I discovered I love working with people, helping them solve problems, seeing them succeed and most of all, watching them become contributing members of society,” he said. “One of my greatest satisfactions has come in seeing my 4-H alumni lead in their families, communities and careers. The 4-H program continues to be one of the best resources in building citizenship, leadership and life skills.”
Cox, and his wife, Natalie, have three grown daughters who are products of the Oklahoma 4-H Youth Development Program. Although he is retired from 4-H, he keeps himself involved by helping his grandchildren with their 4-H projects.
Cox joins other Oklahomans previously inducted into the esteemed National 4-H Hall of Fame, including Mary Sue Sanders, Pete Williams, Ray Parker, Merl Miller, Barbara Hatfield, Joe Hughes, Ernest Holloway, Wallace Smith, Ira Hollar, B.A. Pratt, Pat McNally and Jim Rutledge.
The National 4-H Hall of Fame was established in 2002 as part of the 4-H Centennial Project of the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents and partners with National 4-H Council and 4-H Youth Development, USDA.
National 4-H Hall of Fame honorees are nominated by their states based upon their exceptional leadership at the local, state, national and international levels.