Published on 01/04/17

History of Rock Eagle 4-H Center chronicled in new book

By Sharon Dowdy

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-Georgia 4-H leader Bill Sutton, grew into a place where millions of past Georgia 4-H’ers and unknown numbers of future 4-H members create lifelong memories.

The book’s author, Ina Cook Hopkins, spent more than nine years compiling data, interviewing key subjects, writing the text and working with designer Carol Williamson to complete the book. A former Walton County 4-H’er, Hopkins refers to the history book as her last 4-H record book and a “tangible way to give back to the organization that means so much” to her.

“Through my research, the names of the buildings at Rock Eagle (4-H Center) now represent real people. This campus is not about bricks and mortar. It’s about people, so this book is also about people,” Hopkins said of the 900-page publication, which includes almost 900 photos and resembles a college 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.”

At a launch event for the book Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, at the 4-H center located outside Eatonton, Georgia, Jerry Whiteside, former Polk County 4-H member and retired University of Georgia Cooperative Extension training coordinator, recounted his memories of attending camp during Rock Eagle’s earliest years.

“Bill Sutton told us kids we were going to help build Rock Eagle by getting our parents, their friends and neighbors involved. On my first trip to Rock Eagle, it was just a bunch of scraped roads and the Rock Eagle (Effigy) Mound. The next year, the first cabin was dedicated. Over the past 60 years, the camp’s impact has been amazing,” said Whiteside, who admits to staying up until 3 a.m. reading the history book on the day he received his copy.

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

“This book was one of the most enjoyable books that I have ever read. 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.

“The 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; the Rock Hawk; 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.”

To order a copy of “Rock Eagle: Centerpiece of Georgia 4-H,” go to

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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