June 29, 2005 | By: Laura Skillman

Mildred Watson was a teenager when her family had to leave their land to make way for Camp Breckinridge, a World War II training and prisoner of war camp in western Kentucky. In the years that followed, her parents and then she took up the cause to enable families to buy their land back and to be better compensated for their losses.

Over the years, the Breckinridge Land Committee was formed but hit many brick walls. That didn’t stop Watson and others from continuing their efforts to be adequately compensated. Watson, who has served as committee secretary for many years, put her Cooperative Extension Service leadership training to work and, along with other committee members, figured out how to maneuver around blocked passages.

Although the camp was declared surplus after the Korean War and the government sold it, it was not sold back to the families, Watson said. In April of this year, a judge with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled that landowners and descendents are due millions of dollars in profits the government made in 1965 by selling the land’s mineral rights. The time for a possible appeal is still pending, she said.

The leadership training Watson credits with helping her to be tenacious was the Family Community Leadership program of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. The 30-hour training program included public policy, group processes, volunteerism, leadership, conflict resolution, team building, communication and decision-making.

Watson has a long history with Cooperative Extension, having been in 4-H as a youth, then as a leader in Webster County Homemakers, where she learned about the program.

“I was in the first FCL program they had in Lexington, I think it was in 1987 or 1988,” she said. “But it was for about three or four years that we did it, because we would go for three days every spring and every fall. When we went in there, we had no idea what we were going to do with the information. It was about public policy and how to run a meeting and everything. It started from base one.”

Watson said she went to the program as a last-minute substitute.

“I really wasn’t wanting to, but I got so much out of it,” she said. “I’d gone almost all through the class before it dawned on me how I could use it.”

As a part of going through the class, the participants went back to their communities and educated others. Watson chose to focus on public policy in her training.

“I’ve learned whenever we hit a snag how to go back and go around that and into another direction,” Watson said. “We’ve started over again 40 times, but it taught me not to quit. It taught me not to give up but to turn around and find another avenue. It helped me so much.”
Watson said going through leadership training is important whether it’s simply to help you within your own family or in your community.

“It enriches your life in anything you do,” she said.

While the program Watson participated in is no longer available, there are leadership programs and opportunities available in all aspects of Extension, including community development, Homemakers, 4-H, horticulture and agriculture, said Karen Ramage, Cooperative Extension Service District 7 director. Programs can be on the local, district, state and national levels. Information about leadership training programs is available at county Extension offices throughout the state.


Writer: Laura Skillman  270-365-7541 ext. 278