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Keeping 4-H a Family Tradition

4-H has been a part of rural Wisconsin for 100 years.

Happy Birthday 4-H! The organization has been an integral part of rural Wisconsin and a family tradition among most farm families for 100 years. The first 4-H club was started in Walworth County on Oct. 30, 1914.

My mother started the tradition of 4-H in my family. My mom, my aunt and my uncle were all active in their 4-H club in the late 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s. When my younger brother and I were old enough to be in 4-H, my mother became the general leader of a new 4-H club called 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 the Rock 4-H Club in Rock County which my husband was a member of in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Our four sons were members of Weeping Willow 4-H Club in Fond du Lac County from 1987 through 2013. I have been a project leader and county activity leader since 2004 and served on the Fond du Lac County 4-H Leader Association board of directors for five years, including one year as president. Now that our sons have all graduated from 4-H, I have decided to make this my last year as a 4-H leader.

The 4-H experience
Over the years, many of my friends and co-workers have asked me about 4-H and why my family is 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, the county fair, the state fair, judging contests, quiz bowls and camps and trips. I do my best to explain but often I can tell they don't get it.

It would help if they asked these questions at the county fair. At least at the fair you can show and tell them about 4-H and they understand it a little better. They can see the projects and in some cases even pet them! 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 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 and/or leader or an older sibling teaching the younger member how to do something. Once they learn to master a skill or task, then they don't need help with that and can learn additional skills and begin helping younger siblings or club members.

Some 4-Hers come from families who do not have a 4-H background. But I'm willing to bet the vast 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 family tradition of 4-H with their children when they are old enough to join. 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 the next 100 years of Wisconsin 4-H!

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