Charles A. Mahan
Charles Mahan received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture from UK in 1907 and 1908. He was hired as the first full-time county agent in agriculture in 1912 in Henderson County, even though Congress’ Smith-Lever Act didn’t establish the Cooperative Extension Service until 1914. His annual salary of $1,400 was split between the county and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Farm Management. During his first year, he did his work by horse and buggy. After that, local leaders bought him a red motorcycle so he could visit farmers.
Mahan left the state for a brief period for extension jobs in Indiana and Ohio. When he returned in 1920, he became the state leader for agriculture agents for Kentucky Cooperative Extension. In a speech he wrote after returning to Kentucky, Mahan said one of the biggest functions of his job was to “develop sane, safe, local leaders who can be trusted to think things through, see both sides of the question, give wise council and leadership to their fellow men.” To that extent, he helped determine that extension agents’ function should be primarily education, offering unbiased, research-based information to their clients. This continues to be the philosophy of Cooperative Extension today.
One of his many accomplishments was handling the relationship between county agents and the organization of county farm bureaus. County farm bureaus were originally organized as advisory and supporting groups for county extension workers. When farm bureaus modified and broadened their purposes, the role between them and extension also modified, and Mahan worked to ensure that the relationship remained a cordial one. The relationship between the two “is potent, and Farm Bureau is a valuable ally.”
Under his guidance, policies were developed which furnished the foundation upon which the extension service in Kentucky is built. Mahan also oversaw the development of a plan, fully adopted in 1923, for assuring an extension program directed toward the needs and desires of the people of each county.
In 1940, Mahan helped set up a widespread organization of neighborhood leaders to assist in disseminating nontechnical information having to do with defense.
In 1947, he helped to formulate a plan to set up a unified extension program in each county. He recommended a plan for an overall county extension advisory committee in each county, a plan that is still in place today.
He retired in 1958, after 41 years of service. During his tenure, he saw extension grow from its beginning of one agent to having agents in all 120 counties. He played a vital role in making the county extension program of Kentucky what it is today and thus contributing to the betterment of the lives of Kentuckians.