Paul Culberson: A Polk Countian to be proud of

Published 6:28 pm Monday, February 23, 2009

Interviewing Paul Culberson on the first day of spring is tantamount to looking back down a half century of Polk County history.

Though his name has become synonymous with the success and prestige of the Polk Community Foundation, his service to the county goes back much further than that. It was as Polk County Agricultural Agent, trekking the dirt roads, visiting remote farming communities and nurturing the 4-H Clubs that he first made his mark known here.

North Carolinian to the core, Paul was born in Chatham County and moved early in life to the thriving metropolis of Snow Camp, where his father was a teacher. In the agrarian economy of the day it was natural for a North Carolina youngster to gravitate to schools which could prepare their grads to fit into and nourish that economy.

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His agricultural degrees from Berry College in Georgia and from North Carolina State (1941), prepared him for a lifetime of service to the farming communities he so successfully served for 30 years.

But, like so many young men of his generation, World War II interrupted his career. &dquo;The first draft number drawn was number 158,&dquo; he says whimsically, &dquo;and I was one of those khaki-clad privates soon off to Fort Bragg.&dquo;

His subsequent graduation from Officer Candidate School launched him on a career with the Army, highlighted by command of the battle-tested 270th Field Artillery Battalion which fought its way across war-torn Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge. The military suited Major Culberson, and he was to devote 28 years to active and reserve duty.

In mufti once again, he became the &dquo;Farm Agent&dquo; (as they were called then) for Polk County in 1946, and that was the beginning of over 53 years of service to his chosen county.

The basic thrust of the job in those days was to help farmers improve their income, and it is interesting to hear Paul recall Polk County as it existed then, a far cry from the burgeoning modern society we are today.

&dquo;Cotton was still our major crop, with over 10,000 acres under cultivation with three cotton gins busy at all times. The Red Fox area, for instance, was almost completely planted in cotton, with only a few peach orchards to break the monotony.&dquo;

One of Paul&squo;s more absorbing duties was to work with the 4-H groups of youngsters who were so important to an agricultural community. To this day it pleases him to run into Polk Countians who were members of those groups.

For those of us who are relative newcomers to the area, this picture of Polk, with muddy roads, horse and buggy travel, the fact that there was only one telephone in use (at the courthouse) and very little electricity, seems hard to imagine. But by 1956, because of the boll weevil menace and falling prices, cotton was on the way out and the face of Polk County was to change forever.

During 30 years of service to Polk, Paul Culberson became part of the community, and the honors bestowed upon him and the volunteer jobs he has held tell a story: a Rotarian for 53 years, he served twice as President; Board member, Polk County Chamber of Commerce; one of the founders of FENCE; member of the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club Board; president of the Tryon Country Club; awarded the &dquo;Distinguished Service Award&dquo; of the county agriculture agents association and President of that 100-county organization; member of the Second Wind Hall of Fame. Whew!

One of the problems in cataloguing an impressive list of accomplishments such as Paul&squo;s is that someone always calls and points to something on the order of, &dquo;You forgot that he was Polk County Citizen of the Year in 1997.&dquo; (Which he was).

After his retirement in 1975 along with Jim Flack, John Landrum and Ben White, he began toying with the idea of setting up the Polk County Community Foundation, which, to some extent, grew out of the &dquo;4-H and Youth Foundation.&dquo; Growth of the new foundation was slow, but today this philanthropic institution is highly respected and continues to serve the community in terms of charity, education, culture and growth.

When Paul retired (again) in 1997, the Newsletter of the PCCF said, &dquo;Paul is the personification of the foundation. There is no way to measure what Paul Culberson has done for Polk County. There are no dimensions which have been invented which can measure his devotion, dedication and personal service.&dquo;

For more than 20 years, working strictly as a volunteer without pay, he has been part of every transaction and every decision of the foundation. Through his personal dedication, he alone has represented the foundation throughout the county among the charitable organizations, elected commissions and civic groups.

The last word comes from Paul Culberson himself: &dquo;It has been most satisfying seeing young people taking advantage of the opportunities the foundation offered, whether educational assistance or some other help, and seeing them succeed later because of it. How our efforts have affected the individual has always been very, very important to me.&dquo;

Paul Culberson, a man for his time, and a Polk Countian in whom we all can take pride.