National 4-H Week, Oct. 3-9, celebrates the birthday of 4-H. 4-H began in Wisconsin 107 years ago in 1914.
My mother started the tradition of 4-H in my family. My mom, my Aunt Marion and my Uncle Tom were all active in their 4-H club in the late 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s in Geneva, Ill., where they grew up and so did I. When my younger brother and I were old enough to join 4-H, my mother became the general leader of a new club we named Lucky Shamrocks. I was a member from 1967 to 1976.
My husband’s parents were active in 4-H as well and were the general leaders of Rock 4-H Club in Rock County, Wis. My husband was a member in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Our four sons — Josh, Ryan, Nathan and Matthew — were members of Weeping Willow 4-H Club in Fond du Lac County, Wis., from 1987 through 2013. I was a project leader and county activity leader from 2004 through 2014, and I served on the Fond du Lac County 4-H Leader Association board of directors for five years, including one year as president. After our sons graduated from 4-H, I retired from 4-H.
The 4-H experience
Over the years, many of my friends asked me about 4-H and why my family and I were so involved. Most of my friends grew up in town and were not 4-H members. It’s difficult to explain what 4-H is all about to someone who has never experienced it: the meetings, the different 4-H projects, county fair, state fair, judging contests, quiz bowls, camps and trips. I do my best to explain, but often I can tell they don’t get it.
Over the years, some of our sons’ friends joined 4-H and were members for a few years. But inevitably, most of them dropped out or quit after a few years because the family support just wasn’t there.
Most projects in 4-H require family involvement — a parent showing a child how to break a dairy calf to lead or how to clip or wash a heifer; a parent showing a child how to make cookies or a healthy snack; a family tilling, planting, watering, weeding and harvesting a vegetable garden. I don’t know too many kids who have ever grown a garden without help from their family.
All of these projects require a parent, leader or older sibling teaching the younger member how to do something. Once the 4-H’er masters a skill, then he or she can learn additional skills and begin helping younger siblings or club members.
Some 4-H’ers come from families who do not have a 4-H background. But I’m willing to bet a majority of 4-H members in Wisconsin have at least one parent, and perhaps a grandparent or two, who were 4-H members.
Because of the family tradition involved in 4-H, I believe it is important that young parents who were in 4-H share the tradition with their children. It’s not always easy for young parents to do that, especially if they live some distance from where they grew up and where their family lives. But continuing the family tradition of 4-H involves young people sharing that tradition of learning by doing with the next generation.
Here’s to 107 years of Wisconsin 4-H. Happy Birthday!
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