Published on 04/21/04

Tybee 4-H Center turns back tide, time

By Larry Dendy
University of Georgia

Among the childhood joys for Bob and Maxine Hubbard Burton of Athens were the fun and friendships of the 4-H program and attending 4-H summer camps.

Growing up, Maxine was involved in 4-H in Forsyth County and attended camp at Rock Eagle, Wahsega and Tybee Island. Bob went to camp at Rock Eagle.

As a University of Georgia student, Bob spent the summer of 1968 as a counselor at the Tybee Island camp. "I saw what an impact that camp had, especially on kids from rural areas," he said. "I'll never forget watching kids see the ocean for the first time. It just opened up a whole new world for them."

"Some of my most cherished memories and valuable life experiences," Maxine adds, "were through 4-H programs and attending camps. I'm grateful for the opportunities 4-H provides young people throughout Georgia and the United States, and for the opportunities that were provided to me."

Tybee in trouble

When the Burtons learned that the 57-year-old Tybee Island camp had fallen into such disrepair it might be closed, they immediately offered to help with a donation to the Georgia 4-H Foundation.

Their gift, along with smaller contributions, helped pay for urgent repairs and renovations on the camp's buildings and funded improvements for the camp's environmental education program.

In appreciation, the university, which runs the 4-H program through its College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, will name the camp the Burton 4-H Center on Tybee Island. A ceremony May 28 will make the name official.

"Thanks to Bob and Maxine's generosity, new life has been breathed into this facility, and it will continue to provide enjoyment and education to Georgia 4-H members," said UGA President Michael F. Adams. "We're very pleased to honor these outstanding alumni supporters in this way."

The Burtons own Flowers Inc. Balloons in Athens, the largest supplier of balloons and related items in the country. Bob graduated from UGA in 1971 with a degree in agriculture. Maxine, a former teacher, earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1972 and a master's in '78.

Little camp

The Tybee Island camp opened in 1947. It's one of five 4-H centers in the state. On 5.5 acres on a tidal creek surrounded by marsh, the camp operates year-round. It can accommodate about 145 young people at a time.

About 1,000 children attend week-long summer camps at the center each year. Another 6,000-7,000 come throughout the year for three-day education programs on coastal ecology and the marine environment. Around 70,000 have attended these classes since they began in 1987.

Arch Smith, associate state 4-H leader, said time, weather and heavy use had taken a harsh toll on the center's buildings. Some were nearly unusable.

Big help

The Burtons' gift helped pay for electrical upgrades, new floors and wall coverings for cabins, Smith said. It helped renovate the dining hall and relocate and remodel a staff house. It will also help pay for environmental education facilities and equipment.

The Burtons support UGA in other ways, too. Maxine is on the board of trustees of the UGA Alumni Association. She created a scholarship in the College of Education to help students study abroad. Bob is on the director boards of the Georgia 4-H Foundation and the Georgia Museum of Art.

"The Tybee camp is very special for rural children because it's often the first time they come to the coast," Bob said. "But children come from all over. It's really a cross section of America.

"The summer after I was a counselor," he added, "I got letters from kids telling me what an effect that camp had on their lives. It definitely made a difference."

(Larry Dendy is assistant to the associate vice president for public affairs of the University of Georgia.)

Larry Dendy is assistant to the associate vice president for public affairs of the University of Georgia.