The Smith Mountain Lake 4-H Educational and Conference Center will change its name to the W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake to recognize the man who helped create the facility and who has been one of its strongest supporters for nearly four decades.

The popular camping and conference facility will be renamed to honor Dr. Bill Skelton, dean emeritus of the Virginia Cooperative Extension Program at Virginia Tech. Skelton is considered the catalyst for developing the center as a year-round, multi-use conference center from its origin as a summer-only 4-H youth camp site.

Skelton will be honored at a ceremony at the Smith Mountain Lake center at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9.

Skelton played a key role in the creation of the Smith Mountain Lake center, which opened in 1966. He continues to volunteer at the center — something he has been doing for past 37 years. Skelton is widely known for his untiring efforts to secure annual funding for camper scholarships and capital improvements. He has been involved with 4-H for more than 70 years and is a member of the national 4-H Hall of Fame.

"The training I received in 4-H was a major factor in preparing me for a successful professional career," Skelton said. "I know the benefits I received as a 4-H member, and I want to help other young people enjoy the same experience."

But Skelton also saw the need for 4-H summer camps to become more than just a positive summertime experience for school students. Virginia Tech’s Extension program has been a key example of the university’s commitment to outreach. By changing summer camps to conference centers, Skelton helped create an environment that not only served more summer campers in better ways, but also served the broader community throughout the year.

His ideas have resulted in establishment of six conference centers in Virginia, serving all the state’s geographical areas. The W. E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake serves 22 counties and cities in central and western Virginia. The facility is described as "America’s leading 4-H Center." About 105,000 campers have attended the center since it opened in 1966.

Skelton was director of Virginia Cooperative Extension from 1965 to 1976. He served in many roles including as a delegate to two National White House Conferences on Youth and as national president of the Extension honorary organization, Epsilon Sigma Phi. He was president of Rotary International in 1983 and traveled around the world meeting with major world leaders and Rotarians in many nations.

Written by Doug McAlister.

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