Community & Public Service
Walter Rusk left a profound influence on Huntington County that may still be seen today. As county agricultural agent for more than 20 years, he helped local farmers to innovate and modernize methods. His advocated for young people and developed one of the top 4-H programs in Indiana.
Born on December 12, 1899 in Waynetown, Indiana, Rusk attended Purdue University and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the school. He taught vocational agriculture at Mt Vernon for two years, and was county agent for Blackford County for 10 years. He became Huntington County agent in 1941 and remained in that position until 1963.
Rusk encouraged farmers to build ponds on their properties, which became a valuable method for controlling flooding. He served as an important liaison between the rural community and the Huntington business community. Rusk was instrumental in establishing the annual Achievement Night that would be held late in the year to honor local farm people. The event was the social highlight of the year for both the rural population and city folk, and tickets were highly sought-after. The gym at Huntington Township School was converted into a huge dining hall which was filled to capacity. The Jonah Club of Akron, well-known for its fish dinners, provided the food, and servers were members of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce.
He had a lasting influence on the young people of the county. He created of the Rural Youth program, an organization with activities for young people after high school that was eventually adopted throughout the state. The program planned trips around the Midwest, and created social and philanthropic activities. The Rural Youth Annual Banquet was a popular event, especially when there was square dancing, one of Rusk’s favorite activities.
Rusk bolstered the Huntington County 4-H program, building one of the largest enrollments in the state. His vision for the local 4-H Fair was to focus on the youth and their projects instead of adding a carnival midway. That model that continues to this day. During his tenure, the Huntington County 4-H Fair was among the best-attended in Indiana.
Working with First National Bank president Dee Wygant, Rusk arranged a trip to Chicago each year for six 4-H members. They took the train to the city and attended the International Livestock Exposition, but Rusk made sure the 4-Hers had a complete cultural experience, so the group would attend plays, visit museums, and even eat at a Chinese restaurant.
Rusk and his wife, Faye, contributed the community in many other ways. They were active in the First Presbyterian Church, and Walter served as president of the Huntington County Historical Society. The Rusks were avid travelers, and were planning a trip to Hawaii when Walter died unexpectedly on September 23, 1966.