People who know Susie (Wallach) Rice today might not know it, but she was an extremely shy child. So shy, in fact, that she didn’t really talk to anyone outside of her own family until she was 6 years old.
What changed? She joined 4-H.
“That really helped me get out of my shell,” said Rice, of New Haven, who raised rabbits for her project, and that required her to talk to judges.
“When I showed my rabbits I had to explain things,” said Rice, who admits that was intimidating at first, but because she loved the rabbits, that motivated her to push herself outside her comfort zone.
In addition to rabbit projects, Rice completed public speaking projects with her 4-H club, and today that’s a skill that she has come to really enjoy. She also credits 4-H with teaching her about discipline and leadership.
She uses all of those skills in her work running her own cleaning service and in her role with the PTO for her children’s school.
Rice’s two children are now involved in the New Haven 4-H Club, carrying on a tradition that began with her parents and even her grandparents, who served as volunteer leaders.
Tanner Adkins, 4-H field specialist for Franklin and Gasconade counties, said there are a number of families like the Rices who have had multiple generations involved in 4-H.
Currently, there are 20 4-H clubs spread out across Franklin County with 612 active youth members and more than 200 volunteers. But the goal is to pull in even more students and families.
“There’s a lot of new things that 4-H has to offer,” said Adkins. “We have now more than 60 programs that we do.”
The stereotype is that 4-H is just for livestock and home ec projects, and historically that is how the clubs got their start, but today’s 4-H clubs are doing projects in aerospace, robotics, civic engagement (community and county government), entomology and beekeeping, geology, outdoor adventures (hiking and survival skills), global education and more.
This year’s 4-H catalog of projects includes projects in filmmaking, environmental science, financial literacy, landscape design and photography, just to name a few.
There really is something for everyone, said Adkins.
Open to Students Ages 5 to 18
4-H is open to children ages 8 to 18, but children as young as 5 can get involved through the Clover Kids program.
Each of the 20 clubs around the county has its own personality, said Adkins. Some focus more on certain types of projects, like livestock, and other will do more of a variety.
For example, the Campbellton Livestock 4-H does a lot of beef and swine projects, said Adkins, and Go Hog Wild 4-H tends to have a lot of kids who do hog projects, although they do a lot of other things too.
The oldest 4-H club in Franklin County is Spring Bluff, which was established in 1945. The club currently has 31 members. The largest club is the Go Hog Wild 4-H in Washington, which currently has 86 members, said Adkins.
Most 4-H clubs meet once a month for club meetings to talk about projects, work on projects and do community service. In addition to that, project leaders will work with their individual groups throughout the year.
So a 4-H member might have two to three meetings a month, said Adkins. Meetings are usually around an hour, maybe a little longer for club meetings, he said.
Most meetings are held in schools or churches around the county. A couple of clubs do meet in private homes, but many need a larger meeting space, said Adkins, noting most clubs have 20-plus members.
A full list of Franklin County 4-H clubs can be found at http://extension.missouri.edu/franklin/clubs.aspx.
Brings Family Together
Sue Koch, whose family has been part of the Spring Bluff 4-H Club for three generations now, said although she was not involved in 4-H as a child herself, she was so impressed with what her friends in 4-H were doing and learning that she wanted that for her own children someday.
She and her husband had seven children, all of who participated in 4-H. Some stayed in the club longer than others, said Koch, noting a few had lost interest by 15 or 16, while one was active until he aged out at 18.
But the best part was 4-H was something the family could do together.
“I jokingly said when our first born turned 8 that ‘we’ joined 4-H. It became a family thing from day one,” Koch remarked. “There are so many things that split families apart nowadays, and 4-H is one that can really bring them together.”
She now has two grandchildren who are members of the Spring Bluff 4-H. They have done projects involving livestock, sewing, pottery and cake decorating.
Of all the skills Koch has seen her children and grandchildren develop through 4-H, she feels the biggest one is responsibility.
“You have a project you want to get done to show at the fair or you have an animal that needs to be fed whether you want to go out to the barn or not, or it has to be trained, whatever it is . . . there is just tons of responsibility learned through doing projects in 4-H,” Koch stressed.
SPIN Clubs, After-School Programs
Franklin County has the largest traditional 4-H enrollment in the state, but those community clubs are just one way to be involved with 4-H these days.
There also are SPIN clubs, which refers to special interests. These are for families who don’t have the time to commit to a whole year of attending meetings, Adkins said, explaining that SPIN club is basically a shortened project for students who want to dive into a specific topic.
“So for six meetings they do that,” said Adkins. “They still are 4-H members, but they aren’t part of a traditional club.”
SPIN Clubs have been especially popular in city settings, Adkins noted.
4-H also offers after-school programming, and Adkins said one of his goals in the next few years is to add in-school programming, where 4-H staff actually go into a classroom and teach.
There are a number of benefits to being involved in 4-H, and the first one that many people mention is leadership.
“4-H is a positive youth development organization, so the kids run the meetings,” said Adkins. “They have an officer team elected, and they run all the meetings. The parent volunteers are there to assist, but the students are the ones running it all.
“The kids in those meetings are learning how to run a business meeting using Parliamentary procedure, so they get to see how running a business meeting works. That’s real world.”
4-H also is a great opportunity to do some career exploration, said Adkins.
Projects Entered at Local Fairs
All of the projects that 4-H offers come with curriculum provided by the University of Missouri. So parent volunteers don’t need to be experts in aerospace to help students with that project, said Adkins. The extension office in Union provides the curriculum and programming to use.
Many of the projects also have different levels, so students of different ages can work on the same project together, said Adkins. And in those cases, the older student work closely with the younger students in a sort of mentoring role, which is another skill that 4-H fosters.
“We love that,” said Adkins. “Our clubs could not function without our older members. They inspire the younger members to push themselves and do projects, to get out of their comfort zone and try something new.”
Franklin County 4-H clubs are known for having a heavy teen population, which isn’t seen in other parts of the state, Adkins noted.
“In other parts of the state, students will start out in Clover Kids or join 4-H when they are 8, but in high school they transition to FFA. We find in Franklin County that we’ve had such a good history that kids will stay the whole time and do both 4-H and FFA,” he said.
“When you look at the Washington Town & Country Fair, those exhibitors, 90 percent are 4-H members,” he said. “In the rest of the state, 60 to 70 percent would be FFA members instead.
Adkins credits the number of fairs in the area — in Washington, Union, New Haven and Sullivan — with keeping teens across Franklin County involved in 4-H, and not just with livestock projects, but home ec projects as well.
“All of those projects we do, they all have physical items you make that you can show and display at a fair,” said Adkins.
Most students do two or three projects in a year, but some do as many as 10.
“The more projects you do, the more you put in at fairs, and the more money, ribbons and recognition you get,” said Adkins.
National 4-H Week
This week, Oct. 6-12, is National 4-H Week, and the theme is “Inspire Kids to Do.”
Here in Franklin County, clubs will be celebrating by getting out into their communities to do service projects. The week will end with a picnic and fun day where all of the clubs come together.
“Franklin County is really blessed in that we have such a strong involvement in 4-H, and we want to keep that going,” said Adkins.
For more information on Franklin County 4-H or to find out more information on specific clubs, people should contact the University of Missouri Extension Office at 636-583-5141 or email Tanner Adkins at email@example.com.
History of 4-H in Franklin County
Extension work began in Franklin County in 1934. The first 4-H Clubs were sponsored by Extension Home Economics Clubs and were formed in 1935.
Sewing 4-H Clubs were led by Ione Whitsell in Gray Summit and Mrs. Clarence Pierce of St. Clair.
The first record of boys joining a 4-H group was in 1937, when eight boys participated in the Attractive Homes project led by Mrs. Ernst Baker of Labadie.
When the Extension came to Franklin County there were many Women’s Progressive Farmers Association (WPFA) groups already established. These groups were organized to provide support to the Missouri Farmers Association (MFA), and received some funding from MFA.
At the time, MFA and the WPFA also sponsored some Junior Farmers Association Clubs (JFA) for the young people in the farm families. Early Franklin County Extension Annual Reports indicate that the large number of existing JFA Clubs was a barrier to organizing 4-H Clubs.
In the 1936 report, Marian E. Johnston, county home demonstration agent, wrote: “4-H Club work has never progressed to any great extent in Franklin County because of the JFA Clubs. I was told not to try to force 4-H Clubs work on the people in their county, so I have talked very little about it, but several have personally expressed to me the opinion that they would like to see 4-H clubs organized in Franklin County . . . Mr. Birch, county superintendent of schools, is very favorable toward 4-H club work and is willing to see it promoted in the county.”
The next mention of 4-H in the county appears in the 1942 Annual Extension Report. The report indicates that there was one club of 10 members, and that all 10 participated in buying war stamps or bonds and in collecting scrap metal and conserving waste fats for the war effort. Five members helped neighbors with farm work.
The year 1945 was significant in Franklin County 4-H history. The 1945 the annual report states: “ Franklin County boys and girls were given their first opportunity to carry an active 4-H program. A youth committee composed of three men and three women cooperated with the Extension agents and the JFA Leader with this program with 36 boys and girls enrolled in two clubs.”
From there, membership grew to 121 in 1946 but dropped back to 84 in 1947.
The next historical change occurred in 1948. According to the 1949 annual report, “The 4-H program in Franklin County was enlarged in 1948 as a result of a change in the policy of the sponsoring organization. A youth committee met with the sponsoring board and approved the organization of 4-H clubs in addition to the JFA clubs in the county.
“At first, JFA clubs carried 4-H projects along with their JFA projects. Since the change in policy, the organization sponsors 4-H clubs as well as combinations of JFA and 4-H clubs.”
This change led to an increase in membership to 194 in 1948, and to 208 in 1949.
The year 1949 also was the first year that 4-H members attended 4-H Camp at Camp Sherwood Forest in Cuivre River State Park near Troy. 4-H members also participated in several other regional and state programs.
By 1950 the program was in full swing.
Grant A. Shrum, who served as an assistant agricultural agent and later as the agricultural agent in Franklin County from 1948-53, was involved in the growth of the program. Shrum went on to serve as a member of the Missouri State 4-H staff from 1953 to ’55, and eventually became the executive director of the National 4-H Foundation.
He was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in 2002.
Paul Schoene worked with 4-H as an assistant agricultural agent and as the first 4-H youth agent when the title was introduced in the early 1960s. Under his guidance the program grew to more than 1,000 members.
Shoene retired in 1979. Ralph Glazner served as 4-H agent for a few months following Schoene. Marian Knapp followed Glazner, and Linda McLaren followed Knapp. Dave Hileman transferred from Polk County in August 1989 and served as Extension 4-H youth specialist until earlier this year.
Today, Franklin County has the largest number of 4-H Club members in the state. There are 20 4-H Clubs in the county with more than 600 members.
The members are led by more than 200 adult and teen volunteer leaders. During the 85-year history, more than 50 adult volunteers have served for 20 or more years. This includes nine who served for 30 or more years and three served for at least 40 years.