As the Economic Research Service celebrates its 50th Anniversary this year and looks back over the decades, the legacy of Senior Demographer Calvin Beale stands out due to the 55-plus-year length of his service at USDA and the impact of his work.
One landmark contribution was Mr. Beale’s discovery of the U.S. nonmetro population turnaround in the early 1970s. His study was first to report that the decades-long stream of rural-to-urban migration had reversed.
In Mr. Beale’s obituary in September 2008, The Washington Post extolled his encyclopedic knowledge:
“Two or three times a year, Calvin L. Beale would leave his desk in Washington and travel to the University of Wisconsin to speak to graduate students. A professor of rural sociology at the university, Glenn Fuguitt, knew that Mr. Beale had spent decades studying the population trends of rural regions for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and that no one alive had a deeper understanding of his subject.
“After his lecture, Mr. Beale would join Fuguitt and the grad students for dinner. In his characteristically reserved but attentive way, he asked the students where they were from. He would then recite the name of each student’s county, no matter how remote, and detail its primary businesses and cultural history. As a final flourish, he would describe the local courthouse.”
Having once said, “You can’t know what’s going on in the country from behind a desk in Washington,” Calvin visited most U.S. counties. Along the way, he photographed over 2,000 county courthouses. Eighteen of his favorite photos can be viewed in a USDA Flickr gallery.