Don Kerr earned $30 a month working at the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Concordia in the early 1940s. Each month, as a provision of the program, he sent $25 of his earnings home to his family. The thought that the monthly payments were helping his family purchase food and necessities motivated Don through long hours of work at the camp. When Don finally returned home, he asked his mother how she had spent the money. “I didn’t spend any of it because we really didn’t need the extra,” she replied. “I saved it for you.” Don used his hard-earned savings on a new dress suit, shoes, shirts, and other apparel items to help him start his “new” work life, enhanced by valuable skills learned at the CCC.
The hundreds of young men enrolled at CCC Camp #788 in Concordia received instruction in basic conservation theory and practice, as well as classroom instruction from teachers in the Concordia school district. Enrollees aged 24 years and younger could serve in the CCC for up to two years. “Opportunities for learning were available to everyone, creating a leg up for the unskilled, uneducated, and underutilized,” noted Amanda Wahlmeier, curator of the National Orphan Train Complex.
The primary activity of Concordia’s CCC camp was soil conservation. The projects, beginning in the spring of 1940, included tree planting and shelterbelt installations, terracing, and pond dam construction. Working with the Department of Agriculture and the Kansas Soil Conservation Office, CCC supervisors identified local farmers willing to undertake conservation practices on their land. In the process, farmers observed better methods and positive practices needed for minimizing erosion, conserving water, and sustaining natural resources.
“Completed projects were a win-win for farmers, conservation, the local economy, and the ranks of the unemployed,” observed Wahlmeier.
Explore the work stories of Concordia’s CCC camp at the National Orphan Train Complex’s companion exhibit to The Way We Worked Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. Both are on display February 2 through March 17, 2013. Click here for events, dates, locations, and times.