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  • Writer's pictureBeltsville News

A Nutshell History of the Bowie-Vansville Association

The Bowie-Vansville Association (BVA) was begun in 1921 as part of a special University of Maryland project through a grant to disabled WWI veterans. The original coordinator was Agricultural Extension Agent Eugene Jenkins, who did extensive work with various types of clubs and who became a prominent state 4-H agent. In the days immediately following WWI, the Department of Agriculture recognized a need to disseminate knowledge, especially about such things as food conservation and productive daily living, to the general public. Without television or much radio available, a means of doing this was through the formation of clubs under the guidance of the Extension Service.

One such club formed by local farmers from the Bowie and Vansville (Beltsville) voting districts was the Bowie-Vansville Association, founded in 1921 and incorporated with a state charter in 1932. The purpose of this organization was “to further the interests of the community, to discuss the affairs of the community, and to promote the members’ welfare.” As stated in the original bylaws, some of the objectives were “to discuss the economic problems confronting the members with regards both to production and to marketing, and, to make country life less monotonous, less irksome, better rewarded, and more attractive.” Early meetings were held in tents and in members’ homes. Land for club use was donated in what is now the City of Greenbelt, but a lack of roads made that “garden spot of the world” inaccessible. A more suitable location in what is now the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center was donated by Lena Knauer,“The Mother of the Community,” in 1929; it was deeded to the BVA in 1932 when the clubhouse was started being built. The original plot in Greenbelt was exchanged for help with the building of the clubhouse at the new location.

When the U.S. Government came into the area and began purchasing farms for a national research center, more and more people sold their properties and moved away. During the Great Depression years of the early 1930’s, almost everyone succumbed to the lure of more urban living, as well as to the need for cash. The BVA clubhouse and the association remained intact, however, even though the members then had to come from miles away to attend meetings and functions. The club has been serving the community for almost 100 years, although that community is now more spread out than in the early days. Original civic activities included cooperative buying of lime, fertilizer, and other supplies, fighting with the county commissioners about roads, and holding farm produce festivals complete with blue ribbons and prizes. The first committees formed were the Roads Committee and the Schools Committee, with the Committee on Entertainment following soon afterward. The roads and the schools committees are now defunct, but the present Ways and Means Committee is still alive. The club sponsored many drives and activities for such groups as Martha’s Closet and other local food pantries and was for many years an avid supporter of the now-closed Great Oaks Home for the Developmentally Disabled. It now supports the Beltsville Women’s Club in its efforts to provide Christmas gifts for needy children.

The BVA Minutes Books contain a history of almost ten decades of fellowship among varying groups of people. The fun and camaraderie shared over the years continue, especially at the annual crab feast held every year on the Saturday after the Fourth of July. For more information, you may contact Bobbi Benfield at

In 1921, one of the founding members composed our club hymn; the words are still true today:

In union there is strength; we’ve joined our hands.

For mutual aid we’ve formed fraternal bands.

Not one for one alone, but all for all,

Each ready to respond to duty’s call.

May Justice hold her lamp to light our way;

May Wisdom put her stamp on all we say.

And may our usefulness be deep and wide,

An influence for good throughout the countryside.

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