Q&A with Roger "Bo" Ryles
By Sharon Dowdy
A Lasting Legacy & A Hard Act to Follow
Longtime State 4-H Leader Roger “Bo” Ryles retired from the CAES this August. Ryles’ connection to 4-H began when he was a child in elementary school, grew with his work as a teenage camp counselor at Rock Eagle, thrived when he was a young adult working as a county agent and flourished when he advanced from district 4-H coordinator to state 4-H specialist and finally Georgia 4-H leader and director. Before leaving the program, which now serves more than 166,000 Georgia students, Southscapes sat down with “Dr. Bo” to get a few parting words of advice.
When did you decide you wanted to work for the state 4-H program and did you have an early goal to someday lead the program?
I was first introduced to 4-H as a fifth grader at Eastman Elementary School. In high school, the idea of becoming a county agent emerged. By the time I was a senior at Dodge County High School, I was certain I wanted to be a county agent and work with 4-H’ers. Being an effective 4-H agent was my dream. District and state opportunities come along as a natural progression of the job. I began to consider those opportunities based on strong encouragement from coworkers and Extension administrators like Don Cowan, Melvin Davis, Bill Edwards, Charles Roland, Tom Rodgers and Tal Duvall.
How has the program changed and grown since you were first named Georgia State 4-H Leader?
We have significantly built on traditional strengths. The 4-H centers have been greatly enhanced. Arch Smith (assistant state 4-H leader and now interim state 4-H leader) played a huge role in that work. We have surely weathered challenges and reinforced our role as partners with schools. Our relationships and credibility are very strong.
The Georgia 4-H Foundation Board, Advisory Committee, Master Club and Counselor Alumni are all working more in concert and have much broader representation and we have developed a strong group of specialized 4-H agents. The UGA Public Service Faculty promotion system has significantly enhanced our academic standing and credibility as educators. I feel 4-H is better known and understood in state government. I know we recently reached the best time in modern history of having cooperation at the national level between all partners. I am most proud of the talent and experience of our Georgia State 4-H staff.
What do you think are the key components of Georgia 4-H’s success?
There are several, including:
- Being a partner with public education at all levels;
- Sustaining a reputation of leadership with state and local elected officials;
- Our talented and hard-working staff;
- A supportive administration;
- Safe and outstanding 4-H centers; and
- Our large, engaged alumni base.
Where would you like to see Georgia 4-H in five to 10 years?
As current and needed as it is today. I’d like to see 4-H’ers enjoying all new cabins at Rock Eagle, a 4-H professional on staff in every county and more in our largest counties, an increased presence in our urban centers and continued enhancement of the school partnership. I’d like to see us as a national leader in 4-H science efforts and serving an expanded role as the source for youth leadership development. I’d like to see a 4-H Foundation that is even more prosperous in securing support for 4-H and another former 4-H’er elected governor.
Mostly, I know I can only see through today’s lens. My biggest hope is that visionary, engaged leaders will be leading Georgia’s best youth organization – Georgia 4-H.
How do you plan to remain involved in the program?
So much of my life and my heart is with 4-H. I’ll always be ready to help as needed, yet I understand now is the time for Georgia 4-H to move on with new leadership. I am confident Georgia 4-H will reach new heights of excellence.