Alumni Spotlight: Clarence J. Cunningham ’53, ’58 MS, ’64 PhD


Dr. Clarence J. Cunningham graduated in 1953 with his bachelors degree in agricultural education. After teaching, he returned to complete his masters degree in 1958 and a doctoral degree in 1964. He is now retired from The Ohio State University as professor emeritus.

Dr. Cunningham reflects on his decision to attend Ohio State, his time as a student in our department and his professional career.

While high school teachers encouraged me to go to college, the decision to major in agricultural education was influenced most by Dr. Howard Miller, a graduate of the department who was the county extension educator with the 4-H program in Wayne County. My interest in attending Ohio State University was initiated by having been on the campus many times for speech and theatre state programs while I was in high school.  I had an interest in poultry science but really wanted to be an educator in the 4-H field.

My undergraduate program in agricultural education started while a resident in the stadium dorm with 17 other entering freshmen.  By the third quarter there were eight of us left living in the dorm – which means ten were not enrolled at OSU.

Beside academic study, my focus was on involvement in student organizations and working to earn money to stay in college.  My primary student organizations were the University 4-H Club and the Agricultural Education Society.  In later years I was also in an agricultural fraternity, Alpha Gamma Sigma.  My part time work included being a referee at student softball games, selling shoes, analyzing farm account records for the University staff.  My success in finding summer work permitted me to be able to graduate with no debt.

The decision to continue with the MS and PhD degrees at The Ohio State University was influenced Dr. Ralph Bender, my academic adviser, and Dr. Robert McCormick.

They both stressed my need for the advanced degrees and helped me find ways to finance additional education.

My undergraduate study focused on study in agricultural education, dairy science, animal nutrition, and agricultural engineering.  I was pleased with my introduction to the department by having course work with Dr. Wilbur F. Stewart, the first chair of the department and Dr. Ralph E. Bender, the then chair of the department. They were successful in challenging me to be successful and guided my early study.

My favorite memory of my undergraduate study was that I became acquainted with a young lady from a farm who would become my wife and partner for the next almost 40 years.

Initial Employment
At graduation with the BS degree I decided that teaching vocational agriculture would be beneficial, even though my interest in working the OSU Extension Education program continued. Traveling throughout Western and Northwestern  Ohio with other graduates to meet with local school boards resulted in my being hired to teach vocational agriculture at Northwestern in Raymond, Ohio.  It was a successful and wonderful experience.

The U. S. Army then continued my education resulting with an introduction to understanding military intelligence.  An early discharge permitted me to return to OSU to complete my masters degree.

Professional Career 1957 Forward
My professional career from that point forward was with The Ohio State University in the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Science.   The first position was as a county extension 4-H educator in Pickaway County where we resided in Circleville.

Two plus years later we accepted an offer to join the OSU campus Extension Service with assignment to the 4-H staff.   About three years later with encouragement I was moved to complete my PhD degree while continuing part time work in the Department of Agricultural Education and the Extension rducation.

After completion of the PhD degree I was assigned 30% time to Agricultural Education and 70% time to the Extension education.

ACEL 1960-1979
I taught the introductory course for two years while also starting my work with teaching graduate courses in program development, evaluation, and research methods.

During the 1960s and 1970s my focus was on graduate education. No records show the how many students I had in classes. My records do show my having served as academic adviser to degree completion the following number of students:

Masters Degree 45
PhD Degree  21

Extension Education-1957-1980
During this period of time my responsibilities changed several times but included a focus on planning noncredit education, directing orientation programs for new employees, directing the evaluation of the Ohio Extension Education programs, and planning educational experiences for international visitors.

Taught formal courses for one to three weeks on other campuses –course content generally dealt with program development and evaluation, but modified to meet current need of current employees.   Courses were taught at the following universities:

Central State University at Cedarville, Ohio –one year
University of Guelph at Guelph, Ontario. Canada –two years
Colorado State University at Ft, Collins, Colorado-two years
University of Minnesota at Duluth. Minnesota –two years
University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada –one year

Taught at several Regional and National Extension Workshops and in-state workshops at the University of Illinois and University of Kentucky

Severed on several national committees including:  planning evaluation for new food and nutritional program, designing new evaluation system for Extension Service, designing no needed program directions in the country, fiscal management in Extension.

Extension Education in the 1980’s
In the early 1980’s my responsibilities became full time employment with the Ohio State University Extension.  My responsibilities focused on personnel and financial issues of the organization.

Volunteer Work in Retirement

  • Hilliard Kiwanis- Volunteer and Past President
  • Served on steering committee to raise $16.5 million to build the
  • Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center
  • Serve on the Board of Wesley Communities(3) and Past Chairman
  • Serve on the Ohio 4-H Foundation Board member and Nominating Chair

Honors and Awards

  • Served as National President of Epsilon Sigma Phi, 1988-1990
  • Distinguished Alumni Award, College of FAES
  • Ohio 4-H Hall of Fame, 2005
  • Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame, 2004
  • Laureate in National 4-H Hall of Fame, 2015

With my former advisor, enjoying our retirement in Florida.

At my grandson’s wedding.

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