National 4-H Hall of Fame welcomes Gordon
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- A man who spent his whole life helping others become their best selves is being honored this fall by induction into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C.
Harvey Lee Gordon, Sr., originally of Leland, Mississippi in Washington County, served as a 4-H state specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service from 1997 until he retired in 2014. A graduate of Alcorn State University, He came to the Mississippi 4-H youth development program from the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
“Being a young black man growing up with limited resources in a small community called Black Dog and evolving to a Sunday school teacher and man of God, he saw the struggles of young people and he wanted to help them become better,” Gordon’s widow, Ruby Gordon said. “That is the theory behind 4-H, to make the best, better.”
Gordon died unexpectedly on May 27, 2021.
“When you see people in a struggle and you can educate them and open their eyes to positive opportunities, you do it,” Ruby Gordon said of her late husband of 41 years. “He always believed that if I can get you the information and you can digest that information, you can become a better person.”
Ruby Gordon said Harvey left a legacy of helping improve the lives of others, starting with his own three sons and extending to his three granddaughters.
“He was always such a humble person, and his whole being was intent on how he could help another person become a better person,” Ruby said. “The content of his character mattered more to him than any honor he might receive.”
Larry Alexander was an MSU Extension 4-H youth state specialist when Gordon joined MSU, and he described Gordon as a very energetic man who took his job seriously.
“He was all about trying to find the best in people,” Alexander said. “He motivated youth to step outside their comfort zones and do things they probably would not have done had he not coached them.”
In his years of working with Gordon, Alexander noted that Gordon never asked someone to do something or attempt something that he was not willing to do himself.
One of Gordon’s coworkers who has since retired said that Gordon was heavily and passionately involved in volunteer recruitment and training and the Mississippi 4-H Volunteer Leaders’ Association.
“He was loyal to the association. He was passionate about the volunteer leader’s association both in Arkansas and Mississippi, and he believed in the volunteers and that association,” said Rae Oldham, former state 4-H specialist. “How fortunate to do something where you have such a passion.”
Alexander echoed that sentiment, saying Gordon “got his satisfaction from seeing volunteers excel in working with young people.”
Alexander said the volunteer leaders’ association was small when Gordon arrived, but he grew it to a very large number of active and lifetime members and sound corporate sponsorships.
Debbie Carnathan was one volunteer 4-H leader who now lives in Chickasaw County. She has been treasurer of the Mississippi 4-H Volunteer Leaders’ Association for more than 20 years and has volunteered with 4-H for more than 40 years.
“Harvey insisted on inclusion. He did not want to exclude anybody from the experience of the volunteer leaders’ association,” Carnathan said.
Harvey knew lots of people and called them by name, she said.
“He had a happy, joyful attitude about him, and it is very fitting that he should get this honor,” Carnathan said.
The National 4-H Hall of Fame ceremony will be held Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C. Gordon will be inducted as part of the Class of 2022. The goal of the honor is to recognize those who have had a significant impact on the 4-H program or a 4-H member through their contribution of time, energy, financial resources and more.
The last time someone from the Mississippi 4-H program was honored in this way was when Harry Dendy was named to the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2011.
Linda Mitchell, interim head of the Mississippi Center for 4-H Youth Development, said Gordon was an exemplary example of the type of person found serving young people in 4-H.
“Harvey took the time to invest in each person -- to make them feel special, to let them know that what they did made a difference -- and by doing this, he left a legacy of positivity and teamwork with our volunteers, our youth and all who knew him,” Mitchell said.