Bob and Maxine Burton receive Georgia 4-H Lifetime Achievement Award

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Maxine Burton was so excited about going to 4-H camp she begged her father to let her go even though she was sick. As a child, Bob Burton attended camp too, and he made two “friends for life” on the Gwinnett County Livestock Judging Team.

“Sixty years ago this summer, I attended 4-H camp at Rock Eagle. I learned there were rules and, if you didn’t follow them, there were consequences,” said Bob Burton, now a father and grandfather.

During the 2019 Georgia 4-H Gala on Aug. 10, the Burtons were awarded the prestigious Georgia 4-H Lifetime Achievement Award for their ongoing, significant and heartfelt support of Georgia 4-H.

“This award is not really for us. It’s for all of those leaders, all of those agents who spent nights away from their family and spent time helping 4-H’ers prepare for life,” said Bob Burton upon accepting the award with his wife. “Those projects and all of those competitions. All you are doing is just preparing for life. Thanks for all the wonderful memories.”

Georgia State 4-H Leader Arch Smith thanked the Burtons for their years of support of the Georgia 4-H program and the generous gift they gave to help save the camp on Tybee Island, Georgia. The Burtons own and operate burton + BURTON, the world’s largest wholesale distributor of balloons and coordinating gift products in the world.

“In the late 1990s, Georgia 4-H was faced with a decision on whether to close the Tybee Island 4-H Center,” Smith said. “The Burtons made a gift that allowed the camp, now the Burton 4-H Center, to continue to prosper. We are grateful to the Burtons for what they did to allow us to still be on Tybee Island.”

Georgia 4-H opened the center on Tybee Island in 1947. By the early 2000s, the camp, located on a tidal creek surrounded by marsh, needed extensive renovations.

The Burtons’ donation to the Georgia 4-H Foundation helped pay for updates including electrical upgrades, new floors and wall coverings for cabins, renovation and expansion of the dining hall, construction of a new staff house, improved teaching facilities, and equipment for the environmental education program.

In 2004, the Georgia 4-H Foundation named the Tybee Island center the Burton 4-H Center in honor of the couple. The Burtons continue to support Georgia 4-H through Project Achievement, special events, 4-H centers and scholarships. Bob Burton is an active member of the Georgia 4-H Foundation Board of Trustees and the Burtons were named Friends of Extension by Epsilon Sigma Pi in 2009.

The Burtons’ connection to 4-H began when they were both Georgia 4-H members. Maxine Burton was involved in 4-H in Forsyth County and she remembers looking forward to 4-H meetings and attending 4-H camps across the state.

“My fondest memories as a child were going to a Georgia 4-H camp each summer. In 8th and 9th grade, I attended Camp Chatham/Tybee Island, and little did I know I would meet a lifelong friend of 54 years. I am so fortunate to have married a 4-H’er and to have attended Camp Chatham/Tybee Island, which ultimately became the Burton 4-H Center,” Maxine Burton said.

Bob Burton, a Gwinnett County 4-H’er, was active in judging events and competitions as well as attending summer camps at all of the Georgia camps. While earning a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia, he was a summer camp counselor at Camp Chatham on Tybee Island, the camp that is now named in his honor.

Upon accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, Bob Burton said he is thankful for all of the Extension agents and adult 4-H volunteers who supported him when he was a 4-H’er and those who support today’s 4-H members.

Burton is grateful to Wayne Shackleford, who was his 4-H agent before becoming the associate 4-H leader.

“Wayne Shackleford made a huge impact on me. He told me that I had leadership abilities.

And if he thought it, I thought it,” Burton said. 

Another legendary 4-H leader, Cecil Johnson, also heavily influenced Burton.

“On a quiet night in front of the (Rock Eagle) chapel, he told a group of us that we are living in a fishbowl and that people see how you act and judge you by how you act,” he said.

He recalled one volunteer, Hugh Snell from Snellville, Georgia, buying him a $5 chicken dinner when he only had enough money for a hot dog. 

“What stuck with me was all the small kindnesses like that. Those small things are what people remember,” Burton said.

For more information about the Georgia 4-H program, go to Georgia4H.org.

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