Gov. Sonny Perdue briefly dropped by the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center in Newton County Friday afternoon to take part in a dedication ceremony for a new cabin named in honor of the camp’s former longtime director, Melvin Johnson.
Approximately 400 people attended the ceremony. Attendees came from all over the state, drawn together by their common link as past campers and FFA members.
Johnson is known for the 41 years he devoted to improving agriculture education throughout the state, first as an agriculture teacher in Berrien County, then as camp director of the Georgia FFA-FHA Center from 1979 to 1996 and later as state director of Agricultural Education until his retirement in 2000.
"It’s not about me, it’s about the young people of this state and agriculture," said Johnson, who thanked former Newton County Chairman Roy Varner and the Newton County Board of Commissioners for their support of the camp’s mission over the years.
"Newton County is a better place to live today because Mr. Melvin Johnson left his mark on the county," said BOC District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing.
Perdue said Johnson served as a strong advocate on the importance of agriculture education for youth at a time in the state when it was not considered cool. Farmers today are enjoying a resurgence in public importance as more individuals begin to pay attention to where their food comes from and the possibilities for biofuels, as one replacement for oil, continue to evolve.
"You hung in there with the knowledge that agriculture was still important," Perdue said. "You stayed by the stuff and made sure that we didn’t give in. On behalf of all Georgians, I want to thank you for the effort that you put forth."
State Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn), who serves as co-chair of the Agricultural Education Advisory Commission, called Johnson a "white knight" in his efforts to strengthen agriculture education, saying, "I don’t know of a more deserving fellow to name this cabin after."
Members of the extended Johnson family took up three whole rows of seats in the camp’s crowded auditorium Friday.
"Melvin has accomplished an awful lot of good things," said Bobby Rowan, Johnson’s brother-in-law, speaking on behalf of the Johnson family. "He’s known across the state…as a real leader in opportunities for rural boys and girls."
After the ribbon cutting of the new cabin, which sleeps 64 people, attendees were allowed to tour through the new rooms. The cabin was built by Sunbelt Builders with funding coming from the state and private donors.
FFA-FCCLA Center Director Todd Teasley, who took over direction of the camp after Johnson, said the camp is in the middle of a fundraising campaign to build another cabin like it just next door. Approximately $300,000 needs to be raised he said.