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Crawford: pioneer in ag education

When Harold Crawford returned to Pennsylvania from World War II in March of 1946, he found work with a local civil engineer. Crawford took advantage of his GI Bill benefits quickly and enrolled in the pre-veterinary medicine program at Tarkio College in Missouri the day after Labor Day. The adjustment from military life to civilian life wasn’t easy. “It’s not easy for anyone,” he says.


When Harold Crawford returned to Pennsylvania from World War II in March of 1946, he found work with a local civil engineer. Crawford took advantage of his GI Bill benefits quickly and enrolled in the pre-veterinary medicine program at Tarkio College in Missouri the day after Labor Day. The adjustment from military life to civilian life wasn’t easy. “It’s not easy for anyone,” he says.

It was at Tarkio where Crawford met Rachel McGowan, his future wife. “She was a junior and I was a freshman. Rachel was from Reinbeck, Iowa,” he says, explaining that he stayed at Tarkio until the fall of 1948 when he enrolled at Iowa State University. It was at ISU that Harold decided to become a vo-ag teacher.

After earning his degree in ag education from ISU in 1950, Crawford began teaching high school vo-ag at Story City. “It was wonderful. I knew I liked teaching, but that first year of teaching was tough,” he recalls.

Crawford returned from WW II and taught the sons of GIs how to make a life in farming. Some earned college degrees. The GI Bill provided young farmers who didn’t earn a college degree an opportunity to learn about farm operations. Some called these classes “farmer’s college” and were taught at the high school level by vo-ag teachers. Before his 2007 retirement, Crawford taught some GIs’ grandsons. “There were times when I’d teach the sons of GIs in the day and then dad at night. ”

Enjoyed teaching high school

While teaching at Story City, Crawford earned his master’s in Ag Education from Iowa State in 1955. He began teaching at the college level in 1965 after 10 rewarding years at Sac City High School. “It was hard to leave high school teaching. I truly enjoyed it,” says Crawford.

As an ISU professor, he taught future teachers how to teach at the high school level. One ISU student, who in the early 1960s was a Sac City High School student, was Denny Berry. “I was fortunate to have had professor Crawford as an instructor when I was working on my master’s degree,” Berry says. One of Crawford’s peers, ISU ag ed professor David Williams, adds, “Harold wanted all his students to reach their full potential. Let the seed mature and grow. He helped them do that.”

Already in July 1971, ISU named Crawford head of its Vocational Agri-cultural Education Department. In September 1989, he was appointed associate dean and director of international ag programs in the ISU College of Agriculture. “That was a turning point for me,” he says. “I had to decide between domestic programs or developing international programs. I introduced the international environment to the faculty.”

What sparked his interest in developing international education programs? “I believe in the saying ‘I’m your brother’s keeper.’ You can’t help but have this sense of purpose. My sister’s missionary work in Kenya and Sudan and my travel experience are other reasons.” Crawford’s colleague, professor Williams, adds, “Harold developed a faculty with an international zeal.” Also, Crawford says, “My work in Costa Rica has been very important to me. I wanted to transfer my knowledge of ag education to other countries.”

On the evolution of farming and ag education, Crawford says, “I’m fortunate I’ve lived in an age of positive change, especially in agriculture. The mechanization of agriculture was one of the first great changes I witnessed in my lifetime.” He adds, “It’s not been 30 years since we began to see young women enrolled in high school ag programs and then go on to higher education in preparing for careers in agriculture.” Changes in communication technology have “taken us from the chalkboard to the microcomputer in just a few short years. Vo-ag programs are still changing; new curriculums are being developed. We need more young people devoted to good teaching.”

To future teachers Crawford says, “Be innovative and creative in teaching. Make sure your teaching is practical and meaningful. Above all, be interested in your student’s present life and future. Believe in your profession, live life with your students. But remember there will be good days and bad, as in any profession.

“Teaching is a wonderful profession,” he says, “especially teaching agriculture because you can and must get involved in your community’s growth and development.”

Crawford wants to be remembered as an educator who liked students and was interested in their whole life, especially their future; was an effective and innovative teacher; was unafraid to work hard to be a good teacher; knew the student’s families; and was active in the community. And “depended on my faith while making major decisions in my life,” he adds.

Classrooms in his honor

Last fall when interviewed in Curtiss Hall on campus at Ames, Crawford discussed his 86 years of life, often with emotion. One month later, on Oct. 21 in a ceremony in Curtiss Hall, Iowa State honored him and his wife by dedicating the Harold and Rachel Crawford Agricultural Teacher Education Complex.

At the ceremony Crawford discussed three core beliefs: the support of family, trust in faith, and “friends all around us.” He added, “It’s the only way to live.” He concluded by saying no motto is more important than: “Teaching is to serve, to serve is to give and to give is to live.” Perhaps these words define Crawford’s teaching philosophy and his passion for teaching more than any others.

Flaugh writes from Primghar.

Praise from former students

His former students say Harold Crawford had a major impact on them at the high school, undergraduate and graduate school levels. A retired vo-ag teacher, Denny Berry, says, “I’ve known Dr. Crawford since the fall of 1961 when I was a freshman at Sac City Community High School. He shaped my vision of agricultural education, which became my life-long career. He was a leader of the Iowa and the National Vocational Education Teachers Associations.”

Berry continues, “Many of Harold’s students excelled as leaders at the state and national levels. I was privileged to be his last high school FFA president. Under his guidance, I was also fortunate to major in ag education at the same time he transitioned to become a professor at Iowa State University. Harold’s philosophy and teaching style inspired me to become a better teacher.”

Crawford taught his students how to solve practical problems and apply what they learned. “We operated an 80-acre FFA chapter farm on the edge of town,” says Berry. “Harold managed the Sac City Market Hog Show that was a big success and well-known regionally. We were involved in FFA leadership contests, including public speaking, parliamentary procedure and chapter programs. His classes were always well-planned, challenging and interesting.”

Part 2 of story

More than once in recent years, I’ve been told, “You should interview Harold Crawford.” Loren Flaugh and I finally had the chance at Iowa State University last fall. It was fascinating to listen to him. This is the second story of a two-part series in Wallaces Farmer.

Crawford is a retired ISU professor of ag education who was head of the department for many years and was also an associate dean of the ISU College of Agriculture. Before that he taught high school vo-ag for a number of years. A Navy veteran, Crawford saw considerable action in the Pacific in World War II. The first article in this series focused on remembering the “Greatest Generation,” the military veterans of World War II. It appeared in our February issue.

This second article focuses on his teaching career. Indeed, he has taught, met or helped in some way many of the people who are readers of this magazine. — Rod Swoboda

honors couple

Dedication of the Harold and Rachel Crawford Agricultural Teacher Education Complex at Iowa State University was in October, as part of Homecoming Weekend. The Crawford Classroom facilities are newly renovated and located in Curtiss Hall on the Ames campus. It offers state-of-the-art equipment for students and offices for graduate students. Donors provided more than $110,000 for the renovations.

Harold, emeritus ag education professor, received his bachelor’s in 1950, master’s in 1965 and doctorate in 1969, all from ISU. The idea to dedicate space to honor Harold and Rachel began five years ago.

At the dedication last fall, Robert Martin, ISU ag education and studies professor, presented the Crawfords with a certificate stating the facilities would be named in their honor. “The idea to expand the gift came from the Crawfords’ three sons,” says Martin. “We soon had support for the renovations from several donors. It didn’t take long for the many friends and former students to step forward with donations and get the ball rolling.”

After nearly 60 years, Harold is still passionate about teaching. He’s received numerous awards for his skills and dedication, including the outstanding international service award, alumni medal for distinguished service to Iowa State and the lifetime achievement award from the regional, state and national associations of agricultural educators. He’s also received the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences George Washington Carver Distinguished Service Award.


This article published in the March, 2012 editionof WALLACES FARMER.


All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.

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