Willard Fox Croney

Willard Fox Croney, and the Award that Bears His Name

By Brian Davis, Cattaraugus Co. SWCD


Willard Fox Croney was born in the State of Delaware in 1928, but spent most of his life in upstate NY.   He was married to Eileen Wise Croney, also a Delawarean, for 64 years, has 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren.  Sadly, he passed away on September 2, 2013 in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where he resided in his later years after retirement from the NYS Soil & Water Conservation Committee.  For the majority of his career, he was dedicated to carrying out the mission of Soil & Water Conservation Districts in and across New York State.


Bill Croney served in the U. S. Army from 1942-1945 in Egypt, N. Africa, and Italy.  He was educated in both the United States and Europe with degrees from the University of Delaware and Cornell University, as well as the University of Glasgow, Scotland.  He was active in soil and water conservation for 40 years, many of them as a faculty member at the College of Agriculture, Cornell University.  In 1950, he was appointed Executive Director of the NYS Soil & Water Conservation Committee by the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Cornell.  His function was to guide county soil and water conservation districts of NY in coordinating federal, state, and local conservation programs.  Mr. Croney developed many techniques for using stereoscopic aerial photography and later satellite imagery to determine aspects of the natural sciences for planning land use and for agriculture.  He wrote several books, including “Conservation Management by Local Government” in 1980.


Up through the 1980’s, most Conservation Districts in NY had very few employees, some with only a clerk/secretary, and if they had any technical staff, it often consisted of only one technician.  Many Districts relied heavily on USDA Soil Conservation Service (now NRCS) staff for most of the technical needs at that time.  Over the past few decades, as USDA conservation programs and priorities changed and the amount of their staff decreased substantially, Conservation District programs have grown and evolved considerably to address a wide variety of local conservation related issues and priorities.


Willard Croney had a vision that, by providing District employees and their partners with quality training opportunities, District programs could grow and advance in order to efficiently and effectively address local conservation needs.  This vision and his efforts led to the organization of the first statewide District Employee Training Session in 1979, what we know today as the Water Quality Symposium.  In addition, he encouraged District employees to organize and form the NYS Conservation District Employees’ Association (NYSCDEA) in 1983.  A big part of his vision was to have District employees work together through the CDEA to determine current and timely training needs, work with partner agencies and other professionals to provide quality training programs, and share their knowledge and experience with each other.  District employees would take this knowledge back to their counties to help strengthen and add to their District programs and services.  Today, thanks to Mr. Croney’s confidence and faith in the unique abilities of Conservation Districts and their employees, collectively we have become recognized and respected as the leaders in grassroots efforts to provide and implement a multitude of valuable programs & services, locally, statewide, and nationally.  Districts have seen tremendous growth in recent years, now with well over 300 employees across the state.


Mr. Croney retired from the NYS Soil & Water Committee in 1983, and upon his retirement, the NYS CDEA established the Willard F. Croney Distinguished Service Award in his honor to be presented annually to an outstanding Conservation District employee in the State.  Employees that are bestowed the honor of receiving this award are recognized by their peers for their dedication and commitment to carrying on Mr. Willard F. Croney’s legacy in the professional development of District employees and our partners.